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L.A. budget crunch forces early inmate release

March 6, 2010 12:24:29 PM PST
More than 200 prisoners were released early this week from L.A. County jails because of a budget crunch. Many more inmates could find their sentences cut in half. They've been released early to help L.A. County balance its budget. If it works as planned, the early release of inmates should save the L.A. County Sheriff's Department some $26 million. Inmates were released earlier than anticipated this week. Sheriff Lee Baca has been told to cut his budget by nearly 10 percent.

Inmates picked up their personal belongings as they were released. Because of court orders, inmates only serve 80 percent of their sentences, but now it's been reduced to 50 percent because of budget problems.

"My sentence was supposed to be a year," said freed inmate Devin Rogers. Asked how long he'd been inside, Rogers replied: "Just about 15 days, maybe."

Fillipo Talangana was only supposed to be in for two weeks. He only served two days.

"I feel good to be out right now. Feels real good to see the sunlight too," said Talangana.

There are 16,700 inmates in the L.A. County jail system. Most serve time for misdemeanors. More than 3,000 are at the Twin Towers Jail.

Sheriff Baca has had to reduce his budget by $128 million. Early release will save $28 million and some department jobs.

"Certain prisoners, the non-violent prisoners, are the ones who are the least likely to run back out and harm society, and so we're doing a probative assessment of their records and releasing non-violent people," said Baca.

Steve Oliveras was convicted of driving with a suspended license. He was told to turn himself in Friday. He arrived and was told they were too busy for him.

"They gave me an option of work release or do the county jail time. I guess they don't have enough staff, I don't know," said Oliveras. Asked how long he was given: "Forty-five days." He admitted the chances were slim that he would serve any time.

In 2002, budget cuts and overcrowding freed some inmates after they served only 10 percent of their time. Sheriff Baca says that's not going to happen again. He expects he'll be able to get it back to 80 percent in the very near future.

"When you cut 9 or 10 percent, in my case it's around 9 percent, out of a total county dollar budget like I have, you're talking about some hurting, but you're not talking about being killed," said Baca.

Releases are also continuing at the Pitchess Detention Center North Facility, and there, according to the Sheriff's Department, the inmate population will soon be reduced to a dozen or so, and the staff will be a skeleton staff when it's all done.