Sheriff Mims plans to open more jail space, reduce overcrowding

FRESNO, Calif.

Just a day after we discovered some violent suspects are getting released early from the county jail, the sheriff may be on the verge of a solution.

Our investigation revealed that it's possible to get out of jail early because of overcrowding, even if you've stabbed someone.

Action News kept asking questions after finding out "assault with a deadly weapon" was not considered a violent enough crime to keep people in jail. We eventually got all the way up to Sheriff Mims and she told us about her plan to re-open parts of the jail and slow the releases.

Reedley Police didn't think they'd have to arrest this same man twice. They arrested Erven Aguayo last year for stabbing a man, then figured the violent charges against him would keep him in the Fresno County Jail. But the sheriff's office released him because of a lack of bed space. Action News was there when Reedley Police arrested him again nine days later on a bench warrant. Sheriff Mims admits it doesn't look good when her jail releases people like Aguayo.

"I would agree there are offenses that the general public may think, 'Well, these are violent,'" she said. "However, I have to make a decision about which violent offenders I keep."

But Mims says the jail may soon be able to hold more inmates. She's closed three floors of the jail over the last four years, but now money from the state could temporarily change everything.

"What I'm anticipating is there might be enough money to open at least one more floor in the jail," she said.

One more floor in the jail means 423 more beds, but the money comes with a trade-off. A new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown means people convicted of non-violent crimes will be sent to the county jail instead of state prisons -- inmates like Robert Gonzales, one of Fresno's top five auto thieves who was sentenced to five years in prison on Thursday.

The new inmates will trickle in over the course of three years until 570 of them are in the Fresno County Jail. Sheriff Mims says she'll need a bigger budget by then, or the early release problem could potentially get worse. She's optimistic she'll be able to open at least one more floor of the jail by then.

"What I hear from supervisors is that's a priority for them and it's certainly a priority for me to make sure we can stop doing this because it's craziness," she said. "It really is."

Mims is expecting to open another floor of the jail before Oct. 1. As for Aguayo, he's still in jail and he's scheduled to be back in court on July 17.

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