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L.A. Now Live: Sex offenders, violent inmates released early

September 03, 2013
  • Inmates are watched by members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department at the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles.
Inmates are watched by members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

Join us at 9 a.m. when we talk with Times reporter Jack Leonard about inmates being released early from Los Angeles County jail.

More jail inmates in Los Angeles County are being set free after serving only a fraction of their sentences because of budget problems and a space crunch caused by an influx of offenders now serving their terms in county jails rather than state prisons.

The releases are benefiting even inmates sentenced to jail for violence and sex crimes, with those offenders released after serving as little as 40% of the time they were meant to spend behind bars, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department records obtained by The Times under the California Public Records Act.

Other criminals are serving even shorter stints. Under the department's current policy, jailers immediately release male inmates sentenced to fewer than 90 days and female offenders sentenced to fewer than 240 days.

This year, the Sheriff's Department has released more than 23,000 inmates before their jail terms were up, a sharp increase over recent years. During all of 2012, the county released 26,000 inmates early, according to department records. In 2011, the number was about 15,700.

The early releases have raised concerns among some on the Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Gloria Molina accused Sheriff Lee Baca of cutting the time inmates serve "willy-nilly" and of failing to explain his rationale to the board. In an interview Friday, Molina said the early releases do a disservice to the victims of crime.

A budget squeeze after the economic downturn of the late part of the last decade, they said, left the department without the money to keep open some sections of the county's jails. Meanwhile, dramatic changes in sentencing laws have shifted the burden of housing thousands of offenders convicted in Los Angeles County from state prison to county detention facilities, putting more pressure on what was already the largest local jail system in the nation.

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