As local jails face problems with overcrowding, lawsuits against the state prison system could make this local problem worse.
Both the Inyo and Mono Sheriffs Departments have joined other Sheriffs Departments across the State to oppose a potential federal court decision to reduce overcrowding in state prisons.
Two long simmering lawsuits allege that prison sentences in California can constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the eighth amendment because of lack of access to healthcare, especially mental health care, due to the over-crowded conditions in the state prison system.
To address this issue, Inyo County Counsel Paul Bruce explained that a panel of federal judges may put a cap on the number of prisoners the state can handle that could result in the release of 40,000 prisoners.
Inyo Sheriff Bill Lutze calls the potential release of 20 to 40,000 inmates horrendous, and predicts that the counties of California will bear the brunt if the judges follow through with the plan to limit the number of state prisoners.
Lutze explained that not only would released criminals head back to their local area, but when someone is sentenced to state prison they would wait in county custody for an open space in the state prisons. The county jail could end up full of high risk or long term inmates, he says.
Mono Sheriff Rick Scholl has also joined this effort
A wide variety of law enforcement groups in California are expected to give their arguments to the three judges in charge of this case next week. If the federal judges do decide to limit how many prisoners the state can incarcerate, Lutze says that the California Sheriffs association plans to appeal, which could send this issue to the Supreme Court.