Alright, so when we last discussed the topic of jail building back in March of this year, LA County CEO Bill Fujioka and Sheriff Lee Baca, presented to the Board of Supervisors their plan to tear down and replace the dangerous, old and dreadful Men’s Central Jail, build a new women’s complex, and also to refurbish some of the other facilities—all for $933 million dollars.
At that time, the supervisors wisely told Fujioka and Baca to come back later when somebody had a better articulated and researched plan that they could defend.
Then at the end of May, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky amended the directive with a motion that advised the planners to make sure they included a thoughtful strategy for an “Integrated Inmate Treatment Center” that is equipped to handle—and ideally to help—the large numbers of mentally ill and/or substance addicted individuals who find themselves in LA County jail daily.
In any case, as of last Friday, the requested plan has appeared.
And it’s far more expensive than the one that the board sent back to the drawing board, four months ago.
But, yes, this shiny new plan (or plans, as there are several iterations of the new strategy) is a conspicuously well-researched, very snazzy and professional-looking 179 pages produced by Vanir Construction Management—all of it loaded with pie-charts, graphs, info-graphics and tons of glossy photos of the various county jail facilities (just in case the county supervisors had never laid eyes their county’s jails).
The new Vanir-designed plan offers several variations on a theme, with each successive iteration costing a million dollars more than the one before it—all of them, as we said, considerably more expensive than the March proposal.
Each of the Vanir-proposed versions include a brand new, free-standing, state of the art mental health treatment center (which appears to take Yaroslavsky’s idea a step further than he had required).
Thus, instead of costing $933 million, the Vanir-created jail construction strategies that arrived on Friday cost a minimum of $1.3 billion, up to the deluxe version at $1.6 billion.
SEARCHING FOR AUSTIN
Vexingly, none of the plans seem to make much use of the strategies that respected incarceration-expert, James Austin, suggested in his report delivered in April 2012 –which recommended using methods like pre-trial release, work release, and others, that had been successfully employed to lower the jail populations in other cities and counties in the nation. Austin also outlined how the LASD could best make use of the county’s existing facilities in order to produce a safe and non-crowded environment and would allow for closure of Men’s Central Jail within two years.
GROUNDHOG DAY, THE JAIL BUILDING PLAN VERSION
Instead of factoring in the best of the population-reduction strategies, the Vanir plan focuses mostly on facilities—which is fine. However, the final product feels suspiciously reminiscent of the proposed $1.4 billion building project that the sheriff and the CEO were trying to jam past the board a year and a half ago in January 2012. That was also when the CEO/Sheriff duo tried to get the Supes to rubberstamp a request to order up a $5.7 million planning package that would lay out the various jail building and jail renovation options—all without so much as glancing at that population reduction strategies that are presented in the Austin report and/or in the Vera Institute study of 2011, which also analyzes how to reduce overcrowding in the jails.
(And while we’re on the subject of planning reports, please do not tell us that this 79-pager we now have in our hands cost the county taxpayers $5.7 million. Seriously. Please make that not be true. It isn’t, right? Right????.)
THE ACLU WEIGHS IN
On Monday, the So Cal ACLU responded to the Vanir report, and clearly they aren’t overly pleased either. Here’s a clip from their letter:
Peter Eliasberg, ACLU of Southern California Legal Director, concludes that, “The report’s sole focus on rebuilding facilities misses the substantial opportunity we have to reduce costs and improve public safety for Los Angeles communities through proven alternatives to custody.”
Critical opportunities for expansion of split sentencing and work release programs – both of which have proven successful in other California jurisdictions – remain dramatically under-utilized in Los Angeles.
The Vanir report notes that, “The options presented for Board consideration are not reliant on certain levels of participation in alternative programs to house the inmate population [which could create] additional capacity.” The failure to fully consider the impact of such programs creates a fundamental flaw in the conclusions drawn from the report’s inmate population projections.
Surely Austin’s strategies are not the only way to go, but it would be prudent to think that there might be some middle ground between his no-building strategy, and this new $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion proposal (that seems awfully reminiscent of the old $1.4 billion proposal of Jan. 2012)—no matter how prettily the new one is graphed and pie charted.
Every reform-minded analysis of how counties should use their post-AB109 funds counsels against focusing one’s spending on building new jails facilities.
So what will Los Angeles County choose?