Jail LA County Board of Supervisors LA County Jail Sheriff Lee Baca

Supes Will Address Jail Planning & Building Options—But Is It Too Soon?

I’m in the middle of working on another project today, so just one quick bit of news on jails:

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.


  • Hi Celeste:

    I think this issue is much larger than most observers realize. I for one think we need a multi-pronged approach to this issue. 700 beds or even 7000 beds can fill up in the blink of an eye. The Department needs to have the latitiude to consider a number of options. Building, release programs, reorganization, etc. I think it would be unwise to wait around for anyone to report anything at this juncture. If options are available they need to be addressed/explored now. If the building isn’t needed in the future, don’t do it… but at least have the authority to get the ball rolling if needed. While electronic monitoring programs offer some relief, they have not normally allowed the thousands of participants needed to reduce jail overcrowding. The inmate population historically rises in the summer, and the Department needs to be ready for any potential influx of “unexpected” guests, not to mention the potential thousands we will be receiving from the state… have I rambled on too long? One last thing about the “empty beds” within the system. Most of them are unoccupied because they are in closed parts of the system. North Facility is fully shuttered at the moment, while Twin Towers and a section of MCJ are not being used. To reopen any of them will require personnel. Lots of personnel the Department doesn’t have yet. And we all know that people cost money…. lots of money.

  • Thanks so much for the comment and the additional information, Falcone. What you say makes a lot of sense.

    The pre-trial release thing has typically done a lot to lower jail pops in other cities, but from what you say, it’s likely going to take a multiplicity of approaches and we need to get going yesterday, since LA is uniquely large and complex, especially now that we’ve got realignment.

  • One more comment about the concept of electronic monitoring working in other jurisdictions; LA County pretty much has more inmates than all other jursidictions in the state… combined. While a jursidiction with 2500 inmates will be happy with a 10% reduction (250 inmates), for us, 10% would be around 1600 inmates… pretty astronomical numbers when you think about it. In fact, in our county, we have about 2500 FEMALE inmates in custody… that’s more inmates than any other county’s MALE inmate population in the state.

  • Typical bureaucrat’s response, “Forget that my Undersheriff created all of these personnel problems and force incident coverups, forget that my executive staff failed to keep me informed of all the problems my Undersheriff has created, and forget that I am not going to hold anyone accountable (except trying to blame a retired commander, he’s an easy scapegoat,) just give me hundreds of millions of dollars of tax payer dollars, and all of these issues will go away. Got it Sheriff Baca, if you could only have more money to piss off, your problems and gross mismanagement issues will go away, NOT.

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