Archive for February, 2010

New legal challenge faces California early-release law

Posted on February 17, 2010. Filed under: Courts, Crime, Parole |

Sam Stanton, Sacramento Bee

Published Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010

Opponents of the state’s parole reform plan have begun new legal efforts to stop early release of county jail inmates and to overturn the new state law that has sparked the release of hundreds statewide since last month.

With the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department preparing to begin early release today of 80 to 100 more inmates, victims’ rights groups and lawmakers denounced the move as dangerous to the public.

“Someone’s going to get killed because of these policies,” said Wayne Quint, president of the California Coalition of Law Enforcement Associations.

Quint, who also heads the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, said his group filed suit Tuesday to stop early release of inmates there, where 300 already have been cut loose under the new law.

That lawsuit is one of several that have been filed to stop implementation of the new law, including one filed late Tuesday in Placer Superior Court by Crime Victims United of California, which seeks a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction to stop the law from being implemented.

Yet another lawsuit will be heard Thursday morning in Sacramento in an attempt by the Sacramento Deputy Sheriffs’ Association to win reinstatement of a restraining order barring Sheriff John McGinness from releasing any more inmates early.

The DSA had won such an order last week after hundreds of inmates had been released, but Judge Loren E. McMaster dissolved his order Tuesday after concluding that inmates’ representatives should have a right to be involved in the matter.

DSA Vice President Bill Miller, appearing at a press conference today with other groups at Bill Bean Jr. Memorial Park, which is named for a Sacramento police officer slain by a parolee, said the deputies would seek to have the releases stopped at Thursday’s hearing.

Karen Flynn, Sacramento’s chief deputy public defender, said her office believes inmates should be able to earn good-time and work credits under the new law, which would allow for the early releases.

The new law changes how such credits are awarded, giving inmates credit for one day off their sentences for every day served that they work and exhibit good behavior. The old law awarded such credits under a system of one day credit for every three served.

Initially, inmates were being released under the law that took effect Jan. 25, giving them one day of credit for every day served even if they earned the credits before the law took effect.

McGinness said he had no choice but to allow the releases under the law, but said Tuesday inmates could not earn the half-time credits retroactively. Instead, after receiving advice from the state attorney general, he said inmates would receive half-time credits only for days served after the new law took effect.

The law was aimed primarily at reducing state prison populations by releasing up to 6,300 low-level, non-violent offenders.

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Over 1,500 jail inmates released throughout the state since passage of new law

Posted on February 10, 2010. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, The Law |

Reported on LA Times – LA NOW

February 10, 2010

More than 1,500 inmates have been released from county jails around California in response to legislation designed to cut the state prison population, prompting an outcry from some law enforcement officials.

More than 300 inmates have been released from Orange County Jail in the last few weeks and about 200 have been freed in Sacramento County, including a man who allegedly assaulted a woman hours after getting early release.

On Wednesday a judge in Sacramento ordered a temporary halt in that county’s early releases, saying the legislation applies only to state prisons and not to county jails. The judge sided with the deputy sheriff’s union, which filed suit against the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department to block the releases.

Officials for Sacramento, Orange, San Bernardino, Ventura, Riverside and other counties have said their legal counsels advised them that the law did apply to county jails, and they created release plans when the law took effect in January.

The legislation, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year, was designed to reduce the state prison population in the wake of the state’s financial crisis and court rulings about prison overcrowding.

[Updated at 5:23 p.m.: Officials have said the law would reduce the state prison population by 6,500 low-level offenders over the next year. The state prison system has not yet released prisoners early under the terms of the law.

The law changes the formula by which prisoners receive time off for good behavior, speeding their release. The state legislative counsel’s summary of the law said it would “revise the time credits for certain prisoners confined or committed to a county jail or other specified facilities.”

David Tennessan, chief deputy of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, said his agency has had no choice but to release 200 inmates in recent weeks. B

ut officials have not done so happily. The law “was misguided,” he said, adding that he expects the county to ultimately release at least 600 inmates.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has not released any inmates early under the new law. The county requires that male inmates serve 80% of their sentences, and officials said they won’t reduce that requirement because of the new law.

“We have no plans to release anyone from county jail based on what the state is doing,” Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said. “We don’t think it applies to us.”

In San Bernardino County, 648 inmates have been released so far, according to the Sheriff’s Department. In Riverside County, more than 170 inmates have been released.

A previous version of this story said nearly 1,000 inmates had been released from county jails.]

–Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton

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Judge orders Sacramento County to stop early jail releases

Posted on February 10, 2010. Filed under: Courts, Parole, The Law |

Sacramento Bee

by Andy Furillo

Published Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010

Saying it was a “formula for disaster,” a Sacramento judge today blocked the Sheriff’s Department from granting any more early releases to inmates it is holding in the county’s jail facilities.

Sheriff’s officials began the releases last week in response to a bill passed last year and signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that will have the effect of reducing the state prison population by about 6,300 inmates, mostly through parole changes.

In his ruling today, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren E. McMaster granted a temporary restraining order that was requested by the deputy sheriff’s union. McMaster said in his two-page written ruling that the new state law only applies to state prisoners, not county jail inmates. The judge set a March 3 hearing date for the union’s request for a preliminary injunction.

The union’s lawyer, David P. Mastagni, argued in a hearing today that the release of the estimated 200 inmates since Jan. 25 before their previously-set release dates, combined with the layoffs of 122 sheriff’s deputies since August, posed a public safety problem for the county.

McMaster agreed.

“Releasing inmates early by the application of a law intended only for those in the state prison population at the same time that deputies in the field are being substantially reduced is a formula for disaster,” McMaster wrote.

The judge also agreed with Mastagni’s argument that the early releases violated the 2008 Victim’s Bill of Rights passed by the state’s voters. The so-called “Marsy’s Law” requires victims to be notified if and when the offenders convicted for the crimes against them are released early.

Mastagni, in his arguments in court today, argued that the “irreparable harm” of the early release program was evident last week when an inmate who got out of jail 16 days early was arrested for the attempted rape of a woman at the Loaves and Fishes complex for the homeless north of downtown.

“There’s nothing hypothetical about it,” Mastagni said.

Sacramento Sheriff John McGinness said he was “generally pleased” with the decision.

“My goal was not different from that of the Deputy Sheriffs Association,” McGinness said in a telephone interview today. “I did not want these people released.”

McGinness said he opened the jail gates to the inmates before their time was up based on “the opinions of counsel” that the new law applied to county inmates as well as state prisoners.

At today’s hearing, Deputy County Counsel James R. Wood argued that the deputies’ union did not have standing to bring the case that named the county and the state corrections department as defendants. Wood noted in his verbal arguments that the alleged attack at Loaves and Fishes occurred in city territory and not in the sheriff’s patrol jurisdiction.

Wood said that no deputies have suffered any injuries as a result of the releases, to which McMaster replied from the bench, “We have to wait ’til somebody gets hurt?”

The county lawyer also said there has been no evidence of increased criminal activity as a result of the early releases. He argued that the legislative intent of last year’s bill was for it to apply to county inmates as well as state prisoners.

Wood said the union incorrectly characterized the inmates who are being released as dangerous.

“When the plaintiff comes in and says we have these dangerous criminals being released, they want to classify all inmates as dangerous,” Wood said.

Last year’s bill said that only inmates not characterized as “serious” or “violent,” according to classifications outlined in the state’s “three-strikes” law, or as sex offenders, are eligible for the early releases.

In his ruling, McMaster said the early releases “put the deputies in the field more at risk than they would be” without them

McMaster said he believes the union is likely to prevail on the merits of the suit and that the “balance of hardship” if the releases remain in effect could hurt the general public.

“Public safety is compromised by releasing county jail inmates into (the) community when they have not completed their sentence,” McMaster wrote.

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