Fresno Co jail releases stop as floor reopens

September 3, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
For the first time in almost a year, the Fresno County jail has stopped releasing inmates for overcrowding.

But the reprieve is probably temporary, and some county leaders are already looking for a more permanent plug to the problem.

The sheriff's office re-opened a floor of the county jail over the weekend.

Not even ten inmates have walked out of the jail Monday afternoon, and none of them were released for overcrowding. But some police and politicians still see trouble looming in the distance.

The doors of the Fresno county jail did not swing open often on labor day, making it something of a holiday for crime concerns. After months with suspected car thieves, burglars, and drunk drivers getting out by the dozens because of overcrowding, the opening of a new floor at the north jail has plugged the leak.

But county supervisors are already looking ahead.

"We can't rest there. We have one more floor that we need to open before the end of the year," Supervisor Henry Perea said.

The immediate impact of 432 new beds in the jail is in the numbers. On August 26, the jail released 70 inmates for overcrowding. Exactly a week later, after opening the new floor, they released one. That's the fewest since October of 2011.

But the jail is still much smaller than it once was, holding almost 800 fewer inmates than it did four years ago. Since 2008, Sheriff Margaret Mims has closed three floors, then re-opened two of them with money from the state.

The sheriff acknowledges that closing the floors wasn't ideal, but she says the negative effects may be overblown.

"In the past few years, we have had a decline in crime rates at the sheriff's office anyway both property and violent [crimes]," Sheriff Mims said.

County supervisors fought the closures, and the board recently won the right to budget directly for the jail, instead of deferring to the sheriff.

They're also looking at other options in case the jail is still overflowing after all floors are re-opened.

"I think soon the Board of Supervisors will all be looking at setting up contracts with different counties, like Madera County for example, to set up the types of agreements where when we hit capacity, should we hit that again, we can have an extra tool in the sheriff's tool box," Perea said.

Last time the sheriff reopened one of the closed floors of the jail, it took less than two weeks to fill up the floor and start releasing inmates again because of overcrowding.


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