Convicted California Senator Spends Less Than 90 Minutes in Jail for 90-Day Sentence

November 4, 2014

Former state Sen. Rod Wright turned himself in to Los Angeles County jail authorities Friday night to begin a 90-day sentence for his perjury and fraud conviction, but was released before ever seeing the inside of a cell.

Wright, a Democrat, turned himself in around 9:30 p.m. and was released at 10:41 p.m. after being processed and booked, said Nicole Nishida, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

She said he did not get any special treatment for being a politician.

“Everyone goes through the same process,” Nishida said.

Wright was convicted of eight felonies, including perjury and voting fraud, for lying about where he lived when he ran for office in 2008. The nonviolent nature of his crime, his lack of prior convictions and crowding in the jail contributed to the decision to process and release him, Nishida said. She said jail authorities use a complex formula that takes those factors into account to determine how long all criminals will spend in jail.

“A lot of people are not serving 100 percent of their time because of overcrowding,” Nishida said.

Wright’s situation highlights the trickle-down effect of California’s prison realignment program, in which state prisons are shifting low-level offenders to county jails, creating more crowding in those facilities and prompting local authorities to set some criminals free.

Gov. Jerry Brown pushed for realignment as a way to give local governments more control while the state complies with a federal court order to reduce the number of inmates in state prisons, whose populations have skyrocketed since the 1970s as laws passed to mandate harsher sentences.

Californians scratching their heads over Wright’s quick release could see it as a tangible example of the impacts of prison crowding – or as a sign that powerful people get treated better than everyone else, said Jessica Levinson, a professor of political law at Loyola Law School.