Fresno County Jail Begins Early Releases

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According to an article in the Fresno Bee, early releases at the Fresno County Detention Facility began once again.  The early releases are likely a result of the new realignment laws recently passed in California.  The laws require low-level offenders sentenced to prison to be placed in county jails.  The influx of these inmates, who previously would have served their sentence in prison, is placing a burden on local facilities.  The entire article from the Fresno Bee is included below.

Two weeks after a new floor opened at the Fresno County Jail, the additional 432 beds are nearly full and the familiar problem of early releases has returned.

The jail floor has taken in 420 new people since Oct. 1, the most the floor can safely accommodate, forcing jailers this past weekend to begin freeing the jail’s least dangerous inmates.

Police say the extra room put a significant dent in crime as more criminals were kept off the street – as much as a 27% dropoff in the city of Fresno. Auto thefts saw among the biggest declines, police say, falling from an average 12 a day to eight a day.

But the headway will be lost, police say, as criminals again are let go because of a lack of jail space. It’s a problem the jail has faced for more than three years.

Making matters worse, many believe the number of early releases, which last month averaged nearly 50 a day, eventually will hit new highs as the courts send more criminals to county jail instead of state prison.

If the sentencing does increase like we expect, something has to give,” said Fresno County sheriff’s Capt. Rick Hill, who oversees the jail. “Yes, we’ll have more early releases.”

With the jail’s capacity growing to 2,427 inmates, the number of early releases initially won’t be as high as it’s been. But in as little as several months, the Sheriff’s Office expects the influx of inmates diverted from state prisons to more than fill the new space.

And that, many law enforcement leaders say, can be a recipe for more crime.

The brief reprieve from what some have dubbed the jail’s catch-and-release program comes as a result of Gov. Jerry Brown’s much-debated shift in jail responsibilities from the state to counties, a policy known as realignment.

State funding for the shift has allowed the Sheriff’s Office to open up the additional jail floor for inmates who come here instead of going to state prison.

Because these felons will arrive only as they are sentenced, however – over two to three years – the Sheriff’s Office has extra room now to hold the routine criminals.

For 13 days after the new jail floor opened, jailers admitted everyone who was booked there and did not have to release anyone before they wanted to, the longest such stretch in years.

Generally, criminals charged with low-level crimes, but are yet to go to court, are the first ones freed when space is tight.

During the two weeks without early releases, the Fresno Police Department recorded a dramatic drop in crime, which officers say is a direct result of the jail situation.

“By keeping many of the career criminals and prolific thieves in jail over the past two weeks, we’ve been able to realize the significant crime decreases,” said Police Chief Jerry Dyer.

Property crimes are the most likely to decline when early releases are stopped, Dyer said.

According to the department, property crimes dropped 27.2% over the past two weeks. Burglary was down 18.6%, larceny 30.2%, vehicle burglary 15% and auto theft 29.9%.

“This clearly demonstrates the importance of the jail to the safety of our community,” Dyer said.

Next spring the Sheriff’s Office plans to use state funding to open another floor at the county jail, one of two that remain shut because of staffing cuts.

But the extra space is not expected to keep pace with the number of criminals coming in.

The county has received 42 inmates who would have previously gone to state prison since the jail realignment began this month. Local law enforcement leaders have said that number could grow to 1,000 or more in coming years.

The felons being sentenced to county jails instead of prison are low-level offenders.

“At the end of the day, we were fortunate to have these extra beds for this limited period of time,” said county Probation Chief Linda Penner, who is overseeing the county’s realignment.

“But the realignment population will eventually use these beds, and Fresno County will still have an underlying problem of jail capacity.”

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