07/16/2012 05:02 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2012

Lane County, Oregon, Releasing Nearly 100 Inmates, Some Killers, Amid Budget Woes

Budget cuts may not kill, but they can lead to the release of accused killers.

Oregon’s Lane County this month freed 92 of its prisoners, some of them accused killers, after closing an entire wing in its facility, according to The county is facing a $100 million budget deficit and, in an aim to close the gap, is leaving more than two-thirds of its jail beds empty. Other things that have fallen victim to cuts: Nearly 65 positions in the Sheriff’s department, leaving up to 8 hours per day when there’s no one to respond to calls for help.

As cities and states across the country face budget crises, many have been forced to cut essential services. More than half of U.S. cities boosted fees, stopped construction on city projects or laid off staff last year, according to a September National League of Cities report. In some extreme cases, municipalities have even filed for bankruptcy protection. San Bernardino last week became the third California city in less than two weeks to seek bankruptcy protection.

Across the country, the number of prisoners serving costly life sentences has jumped, making it difficult for lawmakers to slash large prison budgets, according to USA Today. Between 1984 and 2008, the number of prisoners serving life sentences roughly tripled to 104,000.

The problem has become so widespread that Lane isn’t even the first county in Oregon to release inmates in the face of budget woes. Grants Pass, Oregon, let 39 of its inmates go free in May. Most of them were facing charges for things like burglary, identity theft, probation violation and drug crimes.

Releasing inmates isn’t the only way prison systems are cutting back though. Last April, the Texas prison system cut meals for inmates to two per day on weekends in an aim to cut the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s budget by $2.8 million. In 2010, the Texas prison system slashed nearly 3,100 prison-related jobs to cope with budget woes.