Massive Inmate Release Has Already Begun

August 20, 2009 6:48:00 PM PDT
Thirty Fresno County correctional officers are scheduled to lose their jobs at midnight Sunday night. As a result, an entire floor of the Fresno County Jail will shut down. But the anticipated massive inmate release this weekend has already begun.Fresno County Correctional Officer Robert Capps and dozens of other county correctional officers tried one last time to convince Sheriff Margaret Mims to stop layoffs at the jail this weekend.

Capps said, "We've already seen what happens when somebody gets released before he's due to be released. It causes tragedy in the community. We don't need any more tragedy in this community."

The correctional officers claim Sheriff Mims has the money to staff the jail. And, besides, they say she promised she'd never agree to inmate releases. In a campaign statement back in 2006 Margaret Mims told voters quote: "As sheriff, I will make sure not one inmate is released back into our neighborhoods due to overcrowding."

The Correctional Officers Union Director Tom Abshere said, "We ask the sheriff why she's not holding to her promise?"

Sheriff Mims says no one could have anticipated what has happened in 2009 with the downturn in the economy and the collapse of the state budget. As far as having the money, Sheriff Mims says she's had to make cuts in every department. Thirty correctional officers will have to go. A floor of the jail will have to shut down and prisoners will have to be released and already have been.

"We started releasing about two months ago so it's not like we haven't been stepping down already to prepare for this," said Sheriff Mims.

Fresno County jail statistics show 57 inmates were released in July. In the first three weeks of August 133 were let go. Some correctional officers say the inmates walking away are not just non-violent offenders.

Robert Capps said, "80 percent of those are violent felons ... which are now back on the streets of Fresno ... I don't think the public voted for that ... I don't think the public agrees with that."

But Sheriff Mims says there's no reason for the public to panic. She said, "We can take a look at some of those instances that they're talking about and we can prove them true or prove them false ... but it's very easy to make general statements and scare the public because that's not the fair thing to do. "

The Correctional Officers' Union will go to the county's civil service commission Friday to plead their case. Even if they win, Mims says it will only delay the layoffs and eventual release of Fresno County Jail inmates.

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