Seventy-one inmates were released from the Santa Barbara County Jail last Monday in concurrence with new state guidelines for release based on “good behavior.”

Changes in Section 4190 of California’s State Penal Code resulted in the early release of 22 inmates from the county jail’s main facility and 49 individuals in the Alternative Sentencing Program and the Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program. The revised code stems from problems of overcrowding that have plagued both the state prison system and county jails for years.

Santa Barbara County Jail Public Information Officer Drew Sugars said these early releases were a by-product of the governor’s attempt to alleviate overcrowding at the state prison level.

“It was an effort by the governor to lighten up the prison system, but the way the law works is that it also affects the county jail system,” Sugars said.

Prior to the change, inmates received one-third of a day credit off their sentence for every day they served under good behavior. With the new system in place, the credit has been increased up to half a day off their sentence for every day served without disciplinary problems.

The system does not apply to registered sex offenders or those who commit violent felonies.

However, Gordon Hinkle from California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations said the penal code change was aimed solely at the state’s prison system and that action taken by counties to implement the revision is voluntary.

“We’ve heard of a couple counties applying the new credit system retroactively, but they are doing so on their own,” Hinkle said. “We have not even had time to implement the credits in our prison system.”

According to Sugars, most counties have begun implementing the new early release program. The Santa Barbara County Jail enacted the system in reaction to the overcrowding problem it has experienced for over 20 years.

Some law enforcement officials worry that the early release changes may result in increased crime rates.

“The concern that a lot of law enforcement has — and our sheriff has — is that it is sending a bad message to the general public that they won’t have to serve the full time of their crimes,” Sugars said. “Especially when the economy is down, you tend to see an increase in crimes and that is our concern.”

Locally, the penal code change has done little to help the overcrowded jail system. According to Sugars, the Santa Barbara County Jail — which can hold a maximum of 1,075 inmates — has operated over capacity for years.

Sugars said that the early releases will provide little relief and that other solutions, such as the establishment of new prison facilities, must be explored.

“We are going to fill back up to our capacity,” Sugars said. “We need a second jail built in Santa Barbara County. If we were able to build a second jail up in the north county, it would free up the beds and save money on busing down inmates.”