Riverside County jails release 4,000 inmates early as state fights early releases

UPDATE: Riverside County has since broken its record of 6,001 inmates released early. See more here.

As Gov. Jerry Brown battles the federal court over when jails will determine their schedule for releasing inmates early, Riverside County is on pace to tie its all-time record for the number of early releases.

Riverside County jails have already released 4,000 inmates early this year, Sheriff Stan Sniff told us last week.

That means we could hit the record for most inmates ever released in one year — 6,001 inmates in 2007.

“The system is so overloaded. We’re not close. We’re way, way, behind. That’s what’s added to our misery, when you’re seeing some terrible surges in crime,” Sniff said.

The Supreme Court has given the state until June 2013 to reduce its prison population by about 33,000 inmates. The state has warned it does not expect to meet that deadline.

Jails across the state were supposed to decide this month when to schedule the early release of hundreds, if not thousands, of prison inmates.

The Aug. 17 deadline was imposed early this month by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the state has made insufficient progress in reducing the nation’s worst prison overcrowding.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has protested the federal court order, calling the timetable unwarranted.

To make matters worse, the already overcrowded county jails now must house most felons — except for those jailed for a serious, sex or violent crime — who previously would have been sent to state prison.

The state Legislature handed that responsibility to counties last year as part of a broader state budget plan to close a $26.6 billion gap.

Nearly one year into the realignment law, California Watch — a nonprofit an investigative journalism group — examined how Fresno County and San Francisco are handling the unprecedented overhaul.

Fresno County jail population has shot up by 30 percent because of the realignment plan — one of the highest increases in the state, the group found:

Many county jails have limited facilities because they were designed for short stays. Fresno’s jail even faces a class-action lawsuit alleging poor medical care.

Still, some lower-level offenders are getting long sentences, only now, they have to serve them at the county jail. This inmate will spend five years locked in the oldest part of Fresno’s jail. Amy Granados has done time before, but in state prisons. She says that was pretty easy.