California prisons house close to 168,000 inmates. Governor Schwarzenegger wants to release at least 27,000 of them to help balance the budget. Other reports say the number is now closer to 40,000. The wrangling over that continues, but locally our sheriffs work on what it will mean to their departments and to our jails.
Both of our sheriffs have said that a release of state prisoners who will have to come back to county jails could have an impact. The question is how severe? Before the State budget crisis, the Governor had talked about the early release of some prisoners, but the money problems intensified his plans.
Inyo Sheriff Bill Lutze said that the Governor may commute some prisoners’ sentences to county jail if they are what’s called wobbler crimes – domestic violence and theft, for example, that could be misdemeanors and not felonies.
Mono Sheriff Rick Scholl said that a reduction in state prisoners by 40,000 could happen. Prisoners would be sent back to the counties where they were sentenced. Sheriff Scholl points out that most of those sentenced in Mono didn’t come from the Eastern Sierra, so they will likely not impact Mono. Sheriff Scholl did say that changing the “wobbler” crimes from felonies to misdemeanors would mean prisoners coming back to Mono and newly sentenced prisoners on these types of crimes might be more likely to do a year in county jail. Scholl said this could lead to overcrowding.
Both the Inyo and Mono County jails are usually full to overflowing. Additional prisoners from the state level could prompt serious problems.