Convicted criminals to hit the streets ahead of schedule
Changes in a state jail sentencing law means more convicted criminals will be on the streets sooner in the Mid-Valley, including a handful in Colusa County.
Sutter County Sheriff J. Paul Parker said the changes will mean as many as 50 prisoners will be released early from his jail in the next month.
Yuba County Jail will release less than 30 during the next few months, Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Melanie Oakes said Thursday, out of a population of about 400. Colusa County will have to release four.
The legislation calling for the early releases, passed by the Legislature last year, gave some prisoners enhanced credit for good behavior or work-time while behind bars. It barred eligibility for some kinds of prisoners, such as violent or sex offenders.
As a result, most of the early-release prisoners are serving sentences for crimes such as drug possession and vehicle theft, Parker said.
"There are certain criminals we see again and again and again," Parker said. "This will mean we'll see them again and again and again, just on a faster cycle."
Previously, inmates could have to up to a third of their sentences waived if they behaved well or did work while in jail. Those prisoners can now cut their sentences in half.
Gordon Hinkle, press secretary for the state Department of Corrections, said the law and another component of it affecting paroles will in the long run actually help public safety.
Those being released, he said, are most likely to succeed once they're out.
"The goal is to get them to set a goal and achieve it," Hinkle said. "It tells them, do something with your time while you're in here."
Some state prisoners will eventually also be released under the law, which took effect Jan. 25.
In Sacramento County, many criticized the law this week when a man released from the county jail with enhanced credits was arrested in connection with an attempted rape hours later.
Parker said the Legislature passed the bill in reaction to concerns from county sheriffs over whether their jails would be overcrowded with prisoners released by the state because of budget cuts.
But he said he wouldn't presuppose whether releasing jail inmates early would lead to an increase in crime.
Oakes said, "I don't have a good answer to that."
Lt. Miguel Villasenor, the jail commander for the Colusa County Sheriff's Department, said the possibility of recidivism is always a concern for prisoners who are released early.
"However, that's the law," he said. "If they break a new law, the justice system will take care of it."
The portion of the bill dealing with parole, Parker said, will eventually erase any gains seen by releasing jail inmates early.
Under that provision, the state will designate some parolees as having irrevocable parole. If they're caught violating parole, Parker said, they'll have to be prosecuted under a new charge, and possibly sent to county jails rather than state prisons if convicted.
Hinkle said that part of the bill does more to promote public safety, because it allows parole agents to focus on parolees who are more likely to re-offend.
"Instead of checking off a list of names and just going about their day, they can put on their social worker hat and really help those who need assistance in moving back into society," he said.
The two portions of the bill could eventually reduce the prison population in the next year by as many as 6,300 inmates, Hinkle said.
Contact Appeal-Democrat reporter Ben van der Meer at 749-4709 or firstname.lastname@example.org