Across California, more than 13,500 inmates are being released early each month to relieve crowding in local jails, a 34 percent increase over the last three years. A Los Angeles Times investigation shows a significant shift in who is being let out of jail, how early, and where. The releases stem from an effort begun in 2011 to divert low-level offenders from crowded state prisons to local jails. The move had a cascade effect, forcing local authorities to release their least dangerous inmates to make room for more serious offenders.
“It changes criminal justice in California,” said Monterey County Chief Deputy Edward Laverone, who oversees the jail. “The ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ is gone.” Officials say they are making every effort to ensure the releases pose little danger to the public, freeing those believed to be the least risky convicts, usually parole violators and those convicted of misdemeanors. An analysis of jail data found that incarceration in some counties has been curtailed or eliminated for a variety of misdemeanors, including parole violations, domestic violence, child abuse, drug use and driving under the influence. In Los Angeles County, with a quarter of California’s jail population, male inmates often are freed after serving 10 percent of their sentences and female prisoners after 5 percent.