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Supes Reject Plan to Release Felons from Jail Early

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens wanted to electronically monitor some inmates at home to relieve jail congestion.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors passed on Sheriff Sandra Hutchens' plan to release some inmates early. Patch file photo.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors passed on Sheriff Sandra Hutchens' plan to release some inmates early. Patch file photo.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday rejected Sheriff Sandra Hutchens' plan to release some felons to electronic home monitoring to relieve jail congestion.

Supervisor John Moorlach made the motion to allow Hutchens the latitude to send some felons home to be monitored, but it died for lack of a second.

“I would have to be very, very conservative and support that because of the impacts on our community,” Supervisor Patricia Bates said. “I think there might be other alternatives... But I will certainly keep an open mind as we move forward.”

Moorlach said, “I'm confident both the sheriff and the chief of probation will monitor this program to the degree that our residents expect.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson indicated he would have voted yes if the motion had received a second.

Sheriff's Cmdr. Steve Kea said Hutchens has the discretion to keep tabs on misdemeanor offenders with electronic home monitoring, but wanted the flexibility to let non-violent felons participate in the same program.

The Probation Department has the flexibility to let some non-violent felons be monitored at home.

“Probation is already doing this,” Kea said, adding it is a voluntary program in which inmates are assessed a fee that's adjusted by their ability to pay.

Hutchens can order some inmates to participate in a community work program that's much like having to do service picking up trash for Caltrans, Kea said.

“Electronic monitoring would offer more supervision,” Kea said.

The county houses about 7,000 inmates in its jails and has 7,300 available beds, Kea said. But with some inmates having to be isolated and other factors the county usually has about 100 to 150 beds available, he added.

The state's law to relieve congestion in prisons means many inmates are doing time in municipal and county jails.

Before the state law, the county had enough available beds to rent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, bringing in a much needed income of $25 million to $30 million annually, Kea said.

Hutchens may have to look at pulling back on her agreement with the federal government.

“Certainly we'll try to avoid reducing that contract for as long as we can,'' Kea said. “But at some point we'll hit critical mass and the board will have a decision to make.”

Kea said the public should not worry about the inmates Hutchens wants to place on home electronic monitoring. She told supervisors she imagined the felons would be charged with relatively minor crimes such as petty theft with a prior conviction.

--City News Service

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