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Judge won't halt early release of Orange County Jail inmates

February 18, 2010 |  3:34 pm
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. A judge on Thursday denied a request by the union representing Orange County deputies to end the early release of jail inmates but signaled that the decision would not be the last word on the issue, setting a hearing for further arguments next month.

In turning down the bid to temporarily block the releases, Superior Court Judge Steven Perk noted that Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has the final say in choosing how to address the new state law that went into effect Jan. 25.

The judge set a hearing for March 12 on arguments for a preliminary injunction.

The law reformulated good behavior credits for state prison inmates, accelerating their release. But it also has caused confusion among local law enforcement officials, many of whom have been advised by county counsels to release inmates early, an interpretation that was backed up this week by Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown.

But some, including Orange County had already interpreted the law to apply retroactively or that inmates could begin earning credit toward release from the time they were originally sentenced. That has resulted in the release of just over 400 Orange County Jail inmates in less than a month and by some estimates, over 1,800 statewide.

Wayne Quint, president of the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, said the law put the public at risk and said the union was "very disappointed" that the judge did not immediately cease early releases in the county.

"Our opinion is that one inmate getting out early is one too many," Quint said. "We believe that one of these released criminals is going to victimize someone."

--Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton

Photo: Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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