Officials say Fresno County jail nearly full again

FRESNO, Calif.

Officials say they could have to begin releasing inmates early again to relieve crowding again soon.

The county has received money from the state to ease overcrowding in the state prison system.

The goal is to have some criminals who would be sent to prison diverted to county facilities.

Since it will take months for those prisoners to get through the courts, the county figured it had some time to house its routine prisoners, but that time was short.

Despite opening a closed floor of the jail, in less than two weeks the Fresno County jail is back near capacity.

"We will probably get overcrowded in three or four days. That means the jail will be releasing those arrested for non violent crimes like car theft early, often that means right after being booked," Rick Hill of the Fresno County Sheriff's Department said.

Authorities say inmates released early on their own recognizance, without posting bond, have been linked to numerous repeat crimes.

The two suspects arrested following a high speed chase in northeast Fresno last month were suspected of committing dozens of burglaries after being released due to overcrowding.

"If you don't actually arrest the defendants and make them bail out or keep them locked up, one or the other, they are not really held accountable they are emboldened," bail bondsman Albert Ramirez said.

Bail bondsman Albert Ramirez admits he loses income when prisoners don't have to post bail, but says bail is a deterrent to crime.

"The defendants are much more likely to go to court if they are released on bail versus released on or for overcrowding," Ramirez said.

Fresno police and other law enforcement agencies have been dismayed by the early release policy, but once the ratio of inmates to jail staff reaches a certain level, the county has no choice but to abide by a federal court order to release inmates.

"Some of us spend our whole career trying to put people in here, now it seems we are doing just the opposite, we're doing everything we can to put people out," Hill said.

The jail is holding more local suspects for trial right now, but that will soon end.

The state money to add more jail beds is the result of legislation designed to keep local criminals out of the overcrowded state prison system.

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