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At least 47 inmates from Santa Barbara County among those released due to COVID-19
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At least 47 inmates from Santa Barbara County among those released due to COVID-19

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At least 47 inmates from Santa Barbara County were released early from state prison in July, or are scheduled to be released, as part of an effort by California officials to maximize space for social distancing and other health measures to stop spread of COVID-19. 

They include inmates who had been scheduled pre-pandemic for release between July 1, 2020, and Dec. 27, 2020, after serving sentences for nonviolent crimes and those that did not involve domestic violence, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office.

Those being released have remaining sentences of 180 days or less, and not all inmates will serve their full sentences. 

Releases do not include inmates who are sex registrants, those assessed as high risk for future violence or those who have a pending serious rule violation in prison. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered state prison officials on July 10 to release an estimated 8,000 nonviolent inmates by the end of August, according to spokeswoman Vicky Waters.

The releases are in addition to the estimated 10,000 state inmates released since March and follow similar efforts by federal and local officials across California. 

A Los Angeles federal judge on July 14 ordered officials to begin the process of releasing at-risk inmates from the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex to home confinement. 

Release of the local inmates is based on sentences for current convictions and not prior offenses, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Mag Nicola, who compared the efforts by Santa Barbara County sheriff's officials to reduce the Main Jail population due to the coronavirus.

"We're not surprised that (the inmates are) on the list," Nicola said. "I read (Newsom's) orders as just accelerating the release dates that were coming anyway."

Inmates released back to Santa Barbara County were convicted of various crimes, including for burglary, drugs, car theft and weapons offenses. 

Megan Riker-Rheinschild, the District Attorney's victim advocate, receives notification of inmates, who are released on a rolling basis, according to Nicola. 

One inmate includes Michael Ibison, who was arrested on felony warrants on Dec. 20, 2019, following a foot pursuit with Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies in Solvang. 

Another inmate, Edward Maurice Jones, was sentenced to 44 months in state prison on burglary charges in March 2019. Jones previously served a 16-month sentence on accessory and gang charges connected to the Aug. 15, 2007, stabbing death of 21-year-old Chad Stefancich of Atascadero

Some of the releases include individuals already scheduled to get out early, such as Jay Neisinger, who received a two-year sentence on Aug. 27, 2019, for domestic violence-related charges, including stalking and corporal injury to a spouse or co-inhabitant,

Neisinger would have been released early despite the governor's order due to credit earned for work and good behavior in prison, according to Nicola, adding that Neisinger may be on the list despite the link to domestic violence because his sentence is almost finished. 

Some inmates who were cleared for early release may be denied if they incur a major disciplinary infraction while waiting to get out. 

"There are all kinds of ways these folks can sabotage themselves," Nicola said, adding such infractions could include getting caught with cellphones or resisting a correctional officer. 

Coronavirus Series: Local impact and reaction to COVID-19 on the Central Coast

We are working hard to get answers about the impact and reaction to the coronavirus in Santa Barbara County, this is a collection of those stories. Do you have a question about coronavirus in Santa Barbara County? Post them to our Facebook page, or email MCooley@SantaMariaTimes.com.  You can support the work of local journalists working hard in your hometown by signing up for a News+ Membership online

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