Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, July 2, 2002


Page 8


Baca, Citing Underfunding, Starts Release of Misdemeanants Held on Low Bail


By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer


The release machinery began rolling yesterday afternoon for 49 county inmates arrested for misdemeanor crimes with bail of $25,000 or less as Sheriff Lee Baca made good on his earlier threat of releasing the prisoners in response to a $100 million budget gap for his department.

In an effort to free up beds in an overcrowded jail system, the sheriff’s “cite and release” policy will allow inmates arrested for misdemeanors and held on bail of $25,000 or less to be given a citation and be released rather than wait for their court date in jail.

Conditions at the jails has become so severe over the past few months that some inmates have been forced to sleep on the floor, Jackson said.

Nearly 150 inmates out of the county’s 19,953 inmates were identified by department officials as candidates for cite and release, but that number was reduced to 49 after inmates were weeded out because they fell under one or more of the 20 exceptions to the policy, Deputy Sheriff Harry Drucker said.

Inmates will not be cited and released if they are arrested for probation violations, sex crimes against a minor or threatening a public official, according to the Sheriff’s Department’s policy.

The approved inmates were released beginning noon yesterday and the process was expected to continue through this morning, Drucker said.

The release of low-level misdemeanor inmates will continue until there is more funding to provide for the jail population, Jackson said.

“We don’t believe the county is at any greater risk,” Jackson said.

Supervisor Don Knabe said he was disappointed with Baca’s decision to go ahead with the release of the prisoners.

“I still think there are other alternatives,” Knabe said.

But Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who was the lone dissenter from the board’s approval of the budget, argued Baca doesn’t have much to work with in the current budget.

“The board majority failed to realize that unless the sheriff has resources he won’t be able to do the job he was elected to do and to criticize the sheriff in doing what is being done is comparable to shooting the messenger,” Antonovich said.

Baca first threatened the county Board of Supervisors with the plan in May, but backed off at the last minute, saying he wanted to take a more thorough look at the overall impact of the releases. He set an implementation deadline for yesterday, the beginning of the county’s fiscal year.

Baca had estimated the release would save the department between $3 and $4 million. It costs $54 a day to house a male inmate and between $51 and $52 a day for a female inmate, Jackson said.

The move, the latest in a series of spats between the sheriff and the county Board of Supervisors over budgetary issues, comes on the heels of another Baca initiative aimed at paring the jail population.

On June 13 the department began releasing inmates who have served at least 70 percent of their sentence. The minimum percentage of time served was based on a calculation of how many prisoners needed to be released in order to alleviate overcrowding at the county’s jails, Comdr. Chuck Jackson said.

More than 2,000 inmates have been released since the early release program began.

The Sheriff’s Department has already closed the Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood, which can house up to 2,000 inmates daily, and the Biscailuz Recovery Center, which can hold up to 200 inmates in alcohol and drug recovery and domestic violence rehabilitation. Those facilities were shut down yesterday because of the budget crunch, Jackson said.

When Baca first threatened the release of misdemeanor inmates, District Attorney Steve Cooley and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo responded immediately by instructing their prosecutors to seek higher bail for defendants they believe should remain behind bars.

Those directives are still in effect, spokespersons for the prosecutors said yesterday.

If bail increases are granted by the courts, the department may have to bump up the threshold amounts for inmates to be cited and released, Jackson said.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Superior Court said court officials are concerned about the release program and are currently reviewing the situation.


Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company