Some Los Angeles County jail inmates are benefiting from the sour economy, says the Los Angeles Times. When times are flush, the Sheriff’s Department has the money to keep jails open and staffed, and most sentenced inmates serve most of their time behind bars. When tax revenues shrink, the department has repeatedly looked to its jail operations to make cuts, freeing thousands of inmates who’ve served only a small fraction of their sentences. Faced with fresh budget woes, Sheriff Lee Baca announced this week that he has stepped up the early release of inmates.
David Janssen, a former county chief executive who now teaches local government finance and administration at UC San Diego, said much of the county’s budget is untouchable because it is protected from reductions by state and federal laws. That leaves the jails as one of the few areas where cuts can be made. “If the sheriff is sitting there and saying, my only choice is to reduce patrol or to reduce jails, which are you going to do?” Janssen said. The early releases have alarmed victims’ rights groups. Reducing sentences undermines any deterrent effect that jail might have on drunk drivers, said Gail Butler of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, California. “It disturbs us greatly,” Butler said. “We consider DUI to be a violent crime.”