Early jail releases have surged since California's prison realignment

Jesus Ysasaga had been arrested multiple times and ordered by the court to keep away from his ex-girlfriend. Two parole boards sentenced him to nearly a year in jail for stalking, drunkenness and battery.

But the Fresno County jail would not keep him.

Four times in the summer of 2012, authorities let Ysasaga go, refusing two times to even book him. The jail had no room.

Ysasaga's attorney, Jerry Lowe, said the parade of convicted offenders being turned away from the jail was common. "It became quite a joke," he said.

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FOR THE RECORD:

Jail realignment: In the Aug. 17 Section A, an article and chart about early releases of offenders from local jails said that, according to state jail commission figures, 17,400 county jail inmates were released early in October 2013 due to crowding. After publication, the commission said it had made an error and that the October total was 13,509.
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Across California, more than 13,500 inmates are being released early each month to relieve crowding in local jails — a 34% increase over the last three years. A Times investigation shows a significant shift in who is being let out of jail, how early and where.

The releases spring from an effort begun in 2011 to divert low-level offenders from crowded state prisons to local jails. The move had a cascade effect, forcing local authorities to release their least dangerous inmates to make room for more serious offenders.

"It changes criminal justice in California," said Monterey County Chief Deputy Edward Laverone, who oversees the jail. "The 'lock them up and throw away the key' is gone."

State and local officials say that they are making every effort to ensure the releases pose little danger to the public, freeing those believed to be the least risky convicts, usually parole violators and those convicted of misdemeanors.

But an analysis of jail data has found that incarceration in some counties has been curtailed or virtually eliminated for a variety of misdemeanors, including parole violations, domestic violence, child abuse, drug use and driving under the influence.

In Los Angeles County, with a quarter of California's jail population, male inmates often are released after serving as little as 10% of their sentences and female prisoners after 5%.

Fresno County logs show the jail is releasing criminals convicted of crimes that used to rate prison time: fraud, forgery and trafficking in stolen goods.

Law enforcement officials say that criminals have been emboldened by the erratic punishment.

"Every day we get guys who show up in the lobby, stoned out of their minds," said one parole agent who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about the issue. "I'll have 15 arrested, and 12 to 14 will be released immediately."

"We are, for lack of a better term, completely impotent," he said.

For law enforcement agents, the jailhouse revolving door is frustrating.

Leopoldo Arellano, 39, was in and out of custody at least 18 times from 2012 to 2014 for violating parole, criminal threats and at least four incidents of domestic battery, according to Los Angeles County jail logs.