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Report: LA County Inmates Serve Fraction Of Time

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Inmates in Los Angeles County jails are increasingly being released early because of budget woes and lack of space caused by a swell of new prisoners, a new report says.

Even offenders convicted of violence and sex crimes are being set free after serving as little as 40 percent of their sentence, according to an analysis of jail records obtained under the California Public Records Act by the Los Angeles Times.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department so far this year let go more than 23,000 inmates before their sentences were up, a jump from previous years. Under current policy, male inmates sentenced to less than 90 days and female inmates who receive less than 240 days are immediately released.

"Everybody here wants offenders to be accountable for their criminal behavior," Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald told the newspaper. "There's not enough money... There aren't enough resources."

Sections of the county's jails have closed in the last decade because of budget problems. Under the so-called realignment law, counties -- and not the state -- now bear the responsibility for housing prisoners convicted of most non-serious, non-sexual and non-violent felonies.

Only offenders serving traditional county jail terms -- or about 6 percent of the county's 18,800 inmates -- can be released early. Some 6,000 inmates under the realignment program are not eligible.

Some county supervisors have voiced concerns about the early releases.

"Everybody wants to make sure their neighborhood is safe," Supervisor Gloria Molina told the Times. "I don't think people in the general public have any idea that (criminals) are not serving as much time as possible."

Supervisor Michael Antonovich's office suggested that Los Angeles County could contract with neighboring counties to house its inmates. Meanwhile, the board of supervisors will soon decide whether to send more than 500 inmates with lengthy sentences to firefighting camps under state supervision.

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