Authorities are keeping a wary eye on swelling inmate populations as hundreds of extra criminals are sent to Los Angeles County jails under a broad shakeup of California's corrections institutions.
Since Oct. 1, when the new rules took effect, the county has seen more than 700 extra inmates sentenced to county jail instead of state prison - a greater-than-expected rate that could mean the county's 17,000 or so beds are all taken by Christmas, Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo Jr. said Monday.
"We expected 170 a week," Rhambo said. "This is 235 a week."
In a bid to save cash and reduce recidivism, the state passed rules requiring judges to no longer sentence non-violent, lower-level offenders to state prison for crimes such as auto theft, burglary, grand theft and drug possession for sale.
Under the restructuring, post-release supervision for all but the most violent offenders is also being pushed down to the county level.
Rhambo said it's likely the initial high rate of inmates could be attributed to defense attorneys stalling for time in recent months so their clients could be sentenced locally instead of to state prison.
More than 40 percent of the new inmates were sentenced for drug offenses. Rhambo said his department would consider releasing some of those inmates early to ensure there's always room for more serious criminals.
"We want the jail for the 'Oh my Gods,' not someone who's a drug abuser," he said.
If the jails are reaching capacity, other inmates could be released under alternatives to incarceration such as GPS monitoring.