A recent change in how the state sentences people convicted of crimes has led Inyo County to release five inmates this week.
The new sentencing laws for certain non-violent felonies and misdemeanors went into effect on Monday, January 25th, according to Inyo Sheriff Bill Lutze. On Tuesday, five inmates were released before their original sentences were served. Under the new rules, time off of a sentence for good behavior or work credit has increased, which will lead to early releases for some inmates.
At the same time that some inmates see an early release there are other changes coming that could lead to over crowded county jails. Mono Sheriff Rick Scholl explained that the new guidelines apply to what he calls, wobbler, crimes that can be either charged as felony or a misdemeanor. Many of these felonies will now become misdemeanors. The misdemeanors are not punishable by state prison and could lead to more inmates in county jails. This will impact Inyo and Mono, Scholl says.
Inyo Lt. Randy Geiger explained that a further change in parole violations is also likely to increase the population in the county jails, as parole violators are expected to serve time in county jails rather than go back to prison. With no additional money to pay for the expected addition of county inmates, Sheriff Lutze says that the state has left the financial burden on the counties.
As these changes work their way through the system, officials have also noted the potential impacts of a court case that could result in the release of 40-50,000 state inmates.
Last year a three-judge panel ruled in favor of California State Prison inmates that argued that prisoners do not receive adequate health care because of overcrowding. The ruling requires the release of 40,000 to 56,000 prisoners.
The State of California had appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court which decided not to hear the case on the 19th of January, but the legal wrangling continues. Sheriff Lutze says that this potential prisoner release, is not necessarily a done deal, adding that the Supreme Court may revisit the issue in June or July.