More than 150,000 Los Angeles County inmates have been released during the last four years after serving small fractions of their sentences, says the Los Angeles Times. Thousands committed violent crimes when they would otherwise have been locked up, even with time off for good behavior. The large-scale releases started in mid-2002, when Sheriff Lee Baca had to make major budget cuts. Unwilling to lay off patrol officers, he chose to close jails. Nearly everyone now sentenced to 90 days or fewer is let go immediately. Many others leave after serving no more than 10 percent of their time, making Los Angeles County Jail sentences among the weakest in the nation.
A Los Angeles Times investigation found that nearly 16,000 inmates – more than 10 percent of those released early – were rearrested and charged with new crimes while they were supposed to be incarcerated. Nearly 2,000 of those rearrested were released early a second time, only to be arrested again while they should have been behind bars. Hundreds cycled through jail three or more times. Said Police Chief William Bratton: “It’s an amazing system. I’ve never seen anything like it. The police, prosecutors and judges – sometimes even a jury – have made decisions, and you have the ability to arbitrarily undo all of that.”