45 inmates walked out of the John Latorraca Correctional Facility Monday before completing their sentences. Authorities say they were all in jail for property or drug crimes and had served most of their time already.
"They were non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual in their classification," said Cmdr. James Buttrey. "These people would have been released in the next two weeks anyway; some of them just got released a little sooner."
Commander James Buttrey says the sheriff's office had to let them out because it's closing part of the main jail in Downtown Merced to cut $8 million from the department's budget. So about 100 of the 160 inmates who were being held there had to move to the Latorraca Facility.
The sheriff's office has already identified another 70 more inmates who could walk out of jail early over the next few months. About 20 more non-violent offenders are expected to be released in the next five days.
"They're still criminals, and these are the ones that take up most of our time," said Chief Norm Andrade. "They are out there committing these crimes, breaking into people's houses, cheating people out of money they work hard for."
Merced Police Chief Norm Andrade says he's also concerned because starting this weekend inmates can only be booked into the Latorraca facility, which is about ten miles outside of the city.
Chief Norm Andrade said, "What happens if you have 3 or 4 officers, now you're depleting the people that have to respond right away."
He and the sheriff's office are hoping to avoid a growing number of inmates being cited and released, like in Fresno. But they know it's a possibility.
Cmdr. James Buttrey said, "That's not to say in 6 months we may not be in the position Fresno is in, but right now we're doing everything we can to hang on to every inmate we can in order to provide the best possible quality of life we can for the community."