Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca released 343 nonviolent offenders from the county jail system this week, well before they had served their full sentences, says the Christian Science Monitor. The sheriff says budget cuts have forced changes to a longtime policy requiring inmates to serve at least 80 percent of their time before release. Now, those jailed for crimes such as check kiting, petty theft, and drunk driving will serve just 50 percent of their sentences.
“Cops know that many people serving time for nonviolent offenses may also have committed violent crimes for which they did not get caught. And even the nonviolent offenses are worrisome,” says Jack Pitney, political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. “Petty theft may not be so petty if the victim is a poor person. Drunk driving can kill people. More important, early release undermines deterrence.” Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich says the plan makes a mockery of the criminal justice system. “Criminals are sent to jail to serve time for a crime,” he said this week. “It’s not a merry-go-round ride back to the streets.” Some analysts say governments are in such bad financial straits that there doesn't seem to be any alternative.