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500 Inmates Will Be Released Due to Sheriff Layoffs

500 Inmates Will Be Released Due to Sheriff Layoffs

The Fresno Bee via YellowBrix

January 13, 2010

FRESNO, CA – Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said Tuesday she will close three floors of the jail and release up to 500 inmates early to help her solve a budget problem.

Mims plans to lay off 69 correctional officers by Feb. 8. In recent days, the jail has released more than 150 inmates early in anticipation of the closed floors, which will cut jail capacity nearly in half to about 1,800 beds, she said.

Her decision to close three of four jail floors in the north annex drew criticism from some county supervisors, who said she should have made cuts sooner. It also sparked concern among law-enforcement officials, who said the early releases will place the public at risk.

Supervisor Henry Perea, who launched a discussion of the layoffs during Tuesday’s board meeting, said he hopes to get Mims, union representatives and other county officials to consider other options for closing the budget gap.

“I don’t support the closure of one jail floor,” said Perea. He said the releases will create safety risks, in particular because they will happen at the same time the state plans to release other inmates.

The public became aware of Mims’ budget gap last week, but some say Mims should have addressed the shortfall months ago. A Nov. 10 report by county staff said she was facing a deficit for the budget year ending June 30.

Supervisor Susan Anderson said Mims should have made cuts sooner. The less time remaining in the budget year, the more employees must be cut.

But most supervisors have been inclined to let Mims manage her own budget. That decision is backed by a recent county counsel opinion that says the state constitution gives her that responsibility, while the board is responsible for setting her budget.

Mims said declines in sales-tax revenue have given her a $3.9 million budget gap for the fiscal year ending June 30.

That figure is lower than the $6.5 million deficit she reported last week.

Mims said she found other ways to offset some of the anticipated deficits. Those include tapping asset forfeiture funds and canceling planned promotions and hires.

Mims expects to save $2.9 million in the fiscal year ending June 30 by laying off the correctional officers.

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