Hundreds of Inmates Being Released Early

September 3, 2008 7:19:55 PM PDT
Eli Ledbetter was thrilled trading in his jail jumpsuit for street clothes Wednesday morning. "Called my name when I was playing cards and got up and left. Everybody's excited and anxious hoping they're going to be the next person to get out."Fresno County Sheriff Maragaret Mims says she has to close two floors of the downtown jail and release 864 inmates early because of severe budget cuts. Undersheriff Scott Jones says they'll also have to lay off 50 correctional officers. "You just can't continue to pay people and keep floors open when you get less money. Something has to change and this is the change, this is the decision of the Sheriff."

Last year the Sheriff's budget was $121 million dollars. This year Fresno County Supervisors could only give her $112 million. But Supervisor Bob Waterston thinks Sheriff Mims is making a big mistake releasing inmates early. "She does not have to do this, she has got the money to do this because part of that budget goes until June. If she was even going to consider this I would rather her think about this until after the first of the year because the money is still there."

Undersheriff Jones said the department is relying on a computer to list non-violent offenders eligible for release and then a classification officer reviews the inmate's file to make sure they're not letting a career criminal go. He expects about 40 inmates to be released every day through September 22nd. He realizes it's a dangerous gamble but insists the Sheriff had no choice. "She's told me 'Scott this is the hardest decision I've ever made, this is just driving me crazy but I have to do it.'"

Undersheriff Jones says if the budget cuts get any deeper the Sheriff may have to start releasing prisoners with more serious offenses.

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