Is California County’s Early Inmate Release Causing Auto Thefts to Rise?


In Fresno County, Ca., the financial crisis caused deep budget cuts at the sheriff's office, says California Watch. The sheriff laid off corrections officers and reduced the number of jail inmates. Now, some argue, auto thefts are on the rise because there are more criminals on the streets. While this scenario plays out in Fresno, some version of it could be coming to communities all over California.

One of Gov. Jerry Brown's key budget fixes is shifting non-violent, low-level inmates from overcrowded state prisons to county jails – many of which are crowded too. It is cheaper for California to house them locally and the governor's office estimates saving $458 million with the change. It’s not clear exactly how the county facilities will take these thousands of felons. Even if state officials avoid an early release program, local agencies might enact some kind of initiative themselves. In 2009, the Fresno County Sheriff's Office decided it could not afford to hold the inmates it already had after a round of funding cuts. The Fresno Bee reported that Sheriff Margaret Mims eliminated 75 jobs, with jail staffing taking the brunt of the hit to protect regular patrol jobs. Over the past year and a half, 15,000 inmates have been released early. Car thieves exit jail immediately after being booked as part of the sheriff's policy of not holding suspects on property crimes.

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