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Saturday, Apr 17 2010 08:44 PM

Violent inmates released early

BY JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

On a warm Sunday night in July, Richard Galindo head-butted a woman, bit her cheek and slammed his fist into her face three times. He later threatened to put a contract out on her life and the lives of her family members if she told.

Around dinnertime the next day, the local golf-club dishwasher punched another woman he'd been dating for eight months in the face and body repeatedly while they were driving.

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The number of inmates released early under a new state law, between Jan. 25 and March 31, who were convicted of the following crimes:

Obstructing an executive officer 2

False imprisonment 3

Assault on a person 2

Assault with a deadly weapon 4

Fighting in a public place 1

Brandishing a firearm replica 1

Threaten with intent to terrorize 6

Possess or make a dangerous weapon 12

Gang member carrying concealed firearm 1

Carrying a loaded firearm 1

Dissuading a witness or victim 3

Obstructing a peace officer 22

Battery on a person 24

Inflict injury on a spouse 35

Violate court order preventing domestic violence 10

Willful cruelty to a child 4

Disturbing the peace 3

Brandishing a deadly weapon 6

Possessing a switchblade knife 1

LERDO JAIL INMATES RELEASED

But when Galindo went to jail for the crimes, he wasn't classified as a violent criminal.

So Galindo was one of the first 811 Kern County Jail prisoners who earned credits toward an early release under a new law designed to let non-violent offenders out of prison well before the end of their sentences.

Galindo was arrested the day he hit the second woman and, as part of a courtroom deal, pled guilty to one felony count of spousal abuse.

Another charge of spousal abuse and a charge of making terrorist threats were dropped and Galindo was sentenced to one year in jail.

He was out in just over a month -- released from Lerdo Jail on Jan. 25.

Other factors likely played a part in Galindo's extremely short jail term.

But a major factor was that Jan. 25 date -- the first day the county was forced to begin releasing convicted criminals from Lerdo under Senate Bill x3 18.

By March 31, another 810 were freed under the bill's new rules.

The California Legislature passed the bill in an attempt to save money in tough budget times by releasing jail and prison inmates early -- and by creating a new class of parolee who cannot be returned to prison without a trial and is not being actively monitored by a parole officer.

Authors of the bill said the law wouldn't release violent criminals.

But of the 811 prisoners released from Lerdo early under the law by the end of March, Richard Galindo and 140 others had been convicted of crimes that most would describe as violent.

Under the law those prisoners have one day taken off their sentence for every day they serve.

Previous law allowed only a maximum of one day credit for every two days served.

Kern County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Willy Wahl said the Sheriff's Department has to obey the law, even if they don't like it.

"We don't have any latitude or choice in the matter," he said.

The courts determine which criminals are eligible for the credits under very detailed provisions in the law, Wahl said. If the prisoner is eligible for the credits they earn them.

"Organizationally we don't like turning criminals loose early," Wahl said. "It's abhorrent to the department and the public."

The bill that created the system of early releases got firm "no" votes from all four of Bakersfield's state legislators -- for different reasons.

"I am not adamantly opposed to releasing non-violent offenders who are truly non-violent -- jay walkers, parking scofflaws, speeding ticket offenders, that's the level of 'non-violent' in my mind," said Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter. "Keeping these folks in expensive prison cells doesn't make fiscal sense at the moment."

But he said he couldn't support the bill because it would put people he believed were violent back on the street.

"It was these types of scenarios that you've just highlighted that kept me up at night, so to speak -- as the reason why I voted against this measure," Florez said. "On issues of crime, I try to use what I call my wife and kids scale -- if this were to happen to my wife and kids how would I feel and what would I like (to see) done to that person."

Assemblywoman Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, said she opposes all early release measures.

"I voted against SBx3 18 for a myriad of different reasons, but most importantly I saw it as an immediate threat to the safety of our communities in Kern County and across California. Those who have consciously made the decision to violate the laws of the land should be made to serve the time they have earned," she said.

Fixing a budget problem by releasing prisoners is not good law, Fuller argued.

"The bill's author sought to address the gargantuan size of the CDCR's budget through releasing prisoners early," she said. "However, we do not have the problem of too many inmates; we have a significant per inmate spending problem. Currently the state spends approximately $47,000 per inmate, which is well above the national average."

For Sgt. Greg Gonzalez, the Kern County Sheriff's Department officer in charge of managing the jail population, the new law impacts him on a very personal level.

"When this law passed, I told my family be more vigilant, more careful. More and more criminals are going to be on the streets," he said.

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