A new California law designed to thin bloated criminal lockups by shortening some sentences has prompted the release of thousands of nonviolent county jail inmates in recent days, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The measure has fueled controversy and confusion because it fails to spell out exactly which inmates it applies to. Jail officials in the Bay Area have interpreted the law in at least three different ways. Some have released dozens of inmates, some just a few.
The law, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in October, went into effect Jan. 25. It increases good-behavior time credits for nonviolent jail inmates, leading to quicker release. In the past, jail inmates who behaved themselves served as little as two-thirds of their sentence. Under the new law, some drug offenders, thieves and other nonviolent convicts can serve as little as half their sentence, receiving a day of credit for every day locked up. The law did not say whether it applied retroactively to inmates who were already in jail when it took effect.