Los Angeles County jail officials have been releasing as many as 600 inmates each day in the last year before their sentences are completed. The Christian Science Monitor says the year’s total is 47,000. The offenders are nonviolent – drunken drivers, shoplifters, car thieves, but the releases have stirred controversy over whether the savings is worth the potential threat to public safety. “Quality-of-life” crimes are soaring, the Monitor says.
In other ripple effects of government budget wore, Virginia legislators are seeking more funds for prisons, with local jails 7,000 over capacity; Michigan lawmakers are re-studying sentencing guidelines–8 in 10 jails are over capacity; and the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that a year-old law to release some nonviolent felons applies retroactively as well as to incoming felons. More burglars and drunken drivers are back on the streets than lawmakers may have anticipated.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says that, “for misdemeanor offenders our system has come to a grinding halt. With thousands being freed after having paid less than 10 percent of their sentence, there simply is no sense of deterrence whatever. This is no way to run a criminal-justice system.”
“Los Angeles is the perfect example of the problem hitting every jurisdiction across this country,” says Terry Jungel of the Michigan Sheriffs Association. He says “get tough on crime” policies have emphasized rhetoric over funding. “We have continued to pass new laws with new sentences but have not expanded the system to keep up with the public’s dictate. You can’t just continue to pour inmates in the front door without them flowing out the back,” he says.