LA County Sheriff Lee Baca plans early release of inmates

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AP Photo

Overcrowding at the Los Angeles County Jails has been an issue for years. In this photo, Sheriff Lee Baca talks with reporters as he leads a tour inside the Men's Central Jail at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, Wednesday, May 19, 2004. At that time, he faced criticism over a spate of deaths in the country's largest jail.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said Wednesday he'll release jail inmates earlier than planned to help the county address a $400 million budget shortfall.

Non-violent inmates with minimal criminal histories will serve about half their sentences, instead of the usual 80 percent, he said.

“People that are drunk drivers, people who have issues with forged signatures and have lower level counterfeiting. People who committed petty thefts, stole the neighbor’s bicycle," Baca said.

He also said some people serving time for drug use will be released early.

These criminals typically spend from a few days to several months in county jail.

The sheriff seeks to save $128 million by closing part of the Pitchess jail in Castaic, and reducing deputies’ overtime hours.

He declined to speculate on whether those actions increase crime.

“I don’t know if I can fully answer whether it will or not," Baca said. "I don’t think it will.”

The sheriff said he personally would patrol the streets once or twice a month to compensate in part for the lost overtime hours.

“We’re in a save our jobs mode," he said. "I have no desire to have anybody lose their job in the Sheriff’s Department, so I think we can do the belt-tightening in a way that myself and my command staff all will be a part of this backfill of vacant positions that we normally use overtime to fill.”

The sheriff's come under scrutiny for his use of overtime. An audit found that the department had exceeded its overtime budget by an average of 104 percent for each of the last five years.

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