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Baca says early inmate releases 'inevitable' if budget crisis continues

March 3, 2010 | 10:05 pm
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said Wednesday it was "inevitable" that nonviolent inmates in county jails would be released early if the budget crisis persists.

Currently, inmates in County Jail convicted of nonviolent offenses serve 80% of their sentences.  But that  could drop to 50%, department officials said.

"The discussion has moved to the forefront," department spokesman Steve Whitmore said.  "It has become another tool that we are looking at."

Earlier this week, Baca said the department was examining a number of budget-cutting measures, including moving hundreds of deputies from administrative duties to street patrol and slashing overtime payments.

But he told reporters at a news conference Wednesday that early releases may also have to be used to cut costs.

For a period in 2004, Baca released petty criminals early to save money. The move was criticized by other law enforcement officials.

William J. Bratton, who was Los Angeles Police Department chief at the time, said the early releases undercut the LAPD's so-called broken-windows strategy. The strategy is based on the idea that punishing lesser offenses leads to reductions in more serious crime.

-- Andrew Blankstein and Robert J. Lopez