Grants Pass, Oregon was forced to release 39 inmates amid huge budget cuts, which brought prison staffing levels to a twenty year low.
The inmates, released on Wednesday, practically ran from the jail, huge smiles on their faces at being free again, although about half will complete their sentences in work camps, according to The Huffington Post. The rest of those released are awaiting trial.
Jail Commander Vicki Smith did assure the public that “We did keep the worst of the worst,” but not all residents were reassured by this. Josephine County Undersheriff Don Fasching also stated that:
“We had no other alternative based on our funding predicament. We are very concerned for public safety.”
The most common charges among the prisoners released were for drug crimes, minor assaults, burglary, identity theft, and probation. Smith stated that those who faced charges for crimes that carry mandatory prison sentences were not released. About half of the 60 inmates remaining are federal prisoners being held on contract.
According to CBS News, one resident, Tammy Behrle, who lives in the woods by herself, stopped by the jail to take photos of those released so that she would know who to look out for on the street, since she has no computer to check the sheriff’s office website for information about them. She said that:
“I put a gun on layaway — a .38 Special — and I’ll get a permit when I get the training. This thing can go any which way but loose.”
Another visitor on Wednesday was Angelina Banachowicz, who was at the jail to pick up her boyfriend after her daughter heard about the releases on TV. Her boyfriend is a probation violator who is awaiting trial on a minor assault. She stated that:
“He’s still going to do his time…but we’re excited he’ll be with his kids and his family.”
CBS News reports that William Nathan Smith, 45, from San Jose, California, was celebrating his release by sitting on a curb shirtless, smoking his first cigarette in weeks. He served 30 days of a 50 day sentence for drugs, assault, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He told news crews around him that inmates at the prison have been excited for days, hoping that they would be among those released. He stated:
“They’re feeling like they’re getting a break for once. It’s not like they’re beating the system.”