The LA County Board of Supervisors will vote on Tuesday on a proposal to allocate $5.7 million for a study to explore various options to lower the inmate population and improve conditions in the county’s jail facilities —particularly in light of the new influx of prisoners due to the state’s realignment policy.
Nearly all of the options being studied have to do with some combination of building new facilities and renovating old facilities.
The proposal is expected to pass.
Plus, the Supervisors are also likely to authorize an application** for $100 million in state money toward building a new women’s jail.
Then, if Sheriff Baca has his way, the planning will lead to the allocation of really big bucks for jail construction, $1 billion plus to tear down the horrid old Men’s Central Jail and build a nice spanking new jail to take its place.
Critics like the ACLU argue that while the very troubled Men’s Central building, should have been torn down years ago, there are safe and cost-efficient ways to solve the jails population problem without going on a building spree.
For one thing, says the ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg, there are several thousand empty beds in the system right now, between the unused space in the Twin Towers and more unused beds up at Pitchess Detention Center. (Eliasberg says 7000 empty beds, but I’ve not confirmed that with the LASD. But suffice it to say, a lot of unused beds.)
For another thing, right now a study of the LA County jails and its population issues is in the works. It’s being conducted by Dr. James Austin, a national expert on prisons and overcrowding, who has helped other jurisdictions solve their jails population problems, without compromising public safety..
Dr. Austin is expected to meet with Sheriff Baca again in the early days of February to discuss his findings and recommendations, and hopefully to institute a pilot for a pre-trial release monitoring program. This program simply means that people who are given a reasonable bail (because the judge doesn’t consider them a flight risk or a danger to public safety) have an alternative method of getting out of jail before trial (which in some cases may mean electronic monitoring to make sure that they show up for trial) other than simply coming up with the money to hand to a bondsman—which many people don’t have the resources to do.
As it is now the bail system discriminates against poor and middle-class defendants, who must languish in jail—away from jobs and family —while waiting for trial, while the wealthy get to go home—and our current system does nothing for public safety, plus it causes crowding in the jails, at the taxpayers expense.
(The only people who benefit from the current bail system are those in the bail industry, who really, really hate pre-trial release and monitoring programs.)
It’s all this stuff and much more that the Austin report and pilot program will ostensibly address in detail. So wouldn’t it be wiser to wait a few weeks until we can get the info Jim Austin has to offer before starting to allocate planning and building money?
In any case, more on all this later. I’ll let you know how the Supes vote goes.
** I originally reported that the $100 million was for a straight county allocation of funds, but it refers to an application for state funding.