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Early releases of inmates from L.A. County jail now top 340

March 8, 2010 |  5:22 pm

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/photos/uncategorized/2009/02/24/baca.jpgMore than 343 inmates have received early releases from the L.A. County jail system in the last six days, officials said Monday, up from about 200 reported last week.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department began early releases of some nonviolent offenders last Tuesday amid a new round of cost-cutting.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Monday the early releases would continue as the department consolidates operations. He added that it's too early to know when the releases would end -- or if more budget cuts would accelerate them.

Until last week, the sheriff's policy had been that male inmates must serve at least 80% of their time before release. Now, offenders incarcerated for crimes including check kiting, petty theft and drunk driving will serve only 50% of their time.

The department is trying to reduce its budget by cutting deputy overtime and decreasing the inmate population at the north facility of the Pitchess jail in Castaic.

At least 700 of roughly 1,100 inmates have been moved out of the north facility. Officials realized they didn't have enough beds at other jails to house the inmates, so they began early releases of those in custody for nonviolent offenses.

The department is considering $128 million in cuts over the next 16 months from its nearly $1.3-billion general fund budget.

Much of the savings -- about $58 million -- would be achieved through reductions in overtime, and Baca said that would inevitably require shutting some parts of the jails.

-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Sheriff Lee Baca. L.A. Times file