Battle over Fresno Inmate Release

September 4, 2008 12:09:28 AM PDT
The early release of inmates from the Fresno County jail continues. About two dozen misdemeanor offenders were released Tuesday, another group of inmates charged with more series crimes got out Wednesday.Undersheriff Scott Jones says along with 11 inmates charged with misdemeanors, 16 facing felony charges were let out.

Jones says 30 to 40 inmates will be released every day for the next three weeks, until the number is reduced. He notes the sheriff's departments budget has been cut by the County Board of Supervisors by millions of dollars compared to last year. Fresno's Mayor is alarmed fearing the released inmates will commit crimes. He wants the city council to approve taking legal action to try and stop the inmate release.

Alan Autry says:" I'll be asking the city council to approve seeking a temporary restraining order, preventing further county budget caused inmate releases from the jail."

Speaking for Sheriff Margaret Mims who is recovering from a medical procedure, Undersherrif Scott Jones says legal action by the city won't change anything because of a Federal Court order which regulates the jail population and jail staffing.

Jones says:" The Sheriff's response to the Mayor is we don't know what grounds a temporary restraining order lawsuit would be against the County of Fresno. She is operating off a Federal Consent Decree and is mandated by a Federal Court to release."

Action News Legal Analyst Tony Capozzi agrees. Noting the Federal Court order requires an adequate staffing ratio. Fewer officers, means fewer inmates.

Capozzi says, "If the ratio isn't there, inmates have to be released. If the sheriff doesn't do that she could be in contempt of court. I don't see how any lawsuit now is going to alter that prior court order.

The Mayor is calling for a special meeting of the city council on Friday to see if they will approve of the effort to go to court to stop the inmate release. Undersheriff Jones is not happy about releasing inmates and understands the Mayor's concerns. Jones says, "I think he's trying to protect his city. I don't hold any ill will against him."

So far those released are inmates charged with property crimes, who haven't been convicted of anything. They would be eligible for bail, if they had the money.

The Sheriff says No violent or career criminals will be released early. The Fresno County supervisors are expected to take another look at the Sheriff's budget problems at their meeting next Tuesday.

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