More jail inmates in Los Angeles County are being set free after serving only a fraction of their sentences, a Times investigation has found.
The releases are benefiting even inmates sentenced to jail for violence and sex crimes, with those offenders released after serving as little as 40% of the time they were meant to spend behind bars, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department records obtained by The Times under the California Public Records Act.
Other criminals are serving even shorter stints. Under the department's current policy, jailers immediately release male inmates sentenced to fewer than 90 days and female offenders sentenced to fewer than 240 days.
So far this year, the sheriff's department has released more than 23,000 inmates before their jail terms were up, a sharp increase over recent years. During all of 2012, the county released 26,000 inmates early, according to department records. In 2011, the number was about 15,700.
Sheriff's officials said they have had little choice but to free some inmates before their jail terms are complete.
A budget squeeze after the economic downturn of the late part of the last decade, they said, left the department without the money to keep open some sections of the county's jails. Meanwhile, dramatic changes in sentencing laws have shifted the burden of housing thousands of offenders convicted in Los Angeles County from state prison to county detention facilities, putting more pressure on what was already the largest local jail system in the nation.
"Everybody here wants offenders to be accountable for their criminal behavior," Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald said. "There's not enough money.... There aren't enough resources."
The early releases have raised concerns among some on the Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Gloria Molina accused Sheriff Lee Baca of cutting the time inmates serve "willy-nilly" and of failing to explain his rationale to the board. In an interview Friday, Molina said the early releases do a disservice to the victims of crime.
"Everybody wants to make sure their neighborhood is safe," she said. "I don't think people in the general public have any idea that [criminals] are not serving as much time as possible."