Los Angeles County Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.
Los Angeles County Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.

Proposition 47 — which cut penalties for many drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors — has freed up jail cells and left other inmates serving more of their sentence, county officials said Tuesday.

To manage jail overcrowding, the Sheriff’s Department had been releasing low-level offenders after they had served only a small percentage of their sentence.

“Most of the time in which I’ve been here, the women were serving 10 percent of their sentences and the men 20 percent of their sentences,” Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald said.

Now inmates are serving nearly 90 percent of their sentence on average, according to McDonald.

That’s because the county jail population dropped dramatically in November and December. At the end of the year, there were 15,770 inmates in Los Angeles County jails, down from a September total of 19,087, according to a report presented to the Board of Supervisors by McDonald and Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers.

That shift was “largely due to Proposition 47,” according to the report, a conclusion echoed by McDonald.

The change put the jail population back to levels experienced before the state shifted the responsibility for housing “non-violent, non-serious, non- sexual” offenders to county jails in order to reduce overcrowding in state prisons.

And it put the Sheriff’s Department in the position of keeping criminals behind bars longer.

“The only legal reason the sheriff has justification for early release of sentenced inmates is overcrowding,” McDonald said.

City News Service

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