To ease jail overcrowding, San Bernardino County, Ca., Sheriff Gary Penrod will stop jailing suspects accused of drug offenses, theft, burglary, and other nonviolent offenses if they promise to appear in court, the Los Angeles Times reports. Some sex offenders who illegally fail to register with police will be booked, cited, and released from custody if they promise to show up at their scheduled court hearings. “The sheriff’s up against it here,” spokeswoman Cindy Beavers said. “The sheriff is concerned about the safety of the citizens of this county. At the same time, he risks court action if he doesn’t address the overcrowding that has left some inmates sleeping on [jail] floors.”
The policy will “likely increase” the county’s crime rate, said a prosecutor. “We are sympathetic to the sheriff and understand there is an [inmate capacity] cap he has to meet, but we are quite concerned.” Fontana police spokesman Sgt. William Megenney said the new policy “sends a dangerous message to the criminal element, that if you do get caught doing something like dealing meth or writing bad checks, all that happens is that you get a ticket.” Since 2004, jail overcrowding has forced Penrod to issue early releases to an average of 700 inmates per month.