Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Taking prisoners could burden L.A. County

JAILS: Sheriff Lee Baca says more money, staff needed to take inmates from state facilities.


In this undated file photo released by the California Department of Corrections, inmates sit in crowded conditions at California State Prison, Los Angeles. The Supreme Court on Monday, May 23, 2011, endorsed a court order requiring California to cut its prison population by tens of thousands of inmates to improve health care for those who remain behind bars. The court said in a 5-4 decision that the reduction is "required by the Constitution" to correct longstanding violations of inmates' rights. The order mandates a prison population of no more than 110,000 inmates, still far above the system's designed capacity.

Photo by The Associated Press/California Department of Corrections

Plans to reduce California's state prison population, as ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, are likely to result in more prisoners being transferred to Los Angeles County jails, local officials said, but the county may not have the money to house them.

The county already has the physical space for thousands of additional prisoners - but not the budget or staff to watch them, according to a spokesman for Sheriff Lee Baca.

Under Gov. Jerry Brown's pending realignment plan, which shifts more state responsibilities to counties, Los Angeles was already planning to accept more nonviolent, non-sex offenders, according to Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.

"(Baca's) reaction is that this can be done, this has to be done, and it can be done, if funding is connected to Governor Brown's realignment plan," Whitmore said. "If there's no funding, then there's no beds available - it's pretty simple."

Whitmore said the department is still reeling from a $128 million budget cut in the current fiscal year, and cannot take on state prisoners without a significant boost in funding. "Because of our own budget cuts, (Baca) has had to close many, many sections of our jails and reduce the inmate population significantly," Whitmore said. "We have 5,000 beds, perhaps, that go unfilled because

there's no staffing, there's no money, to fill them."

An April 29 report from the department showed "budgetary and staffing curtailments" have forced the closure of 4,607 jail beds since January 2010, and prompted the early release of county inmates.

Typically, they are freed after serving as little as 20 percent of their sentences.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich is adamantly opposed to allowing state prisoners to use those jail beds, saying state leaders should come up with other ideas to get rid of their budget deficit and fulfill the Supreme Court ruling.

"Their fiscal mismanagement shouldn't have to burden every county, city and school district in the state," he said.

Antonovich's justice deputy, Anna Pembedjian, said state prisoners should not be allowed to crowd out county inmates.

"The bottom line is this: we have a finite number of jail beds," she said. "To say that we have available jail beds that we can commit to the state means that those jail beds will never be available to us (the county) in the future."

Whitmore said Baca is hopeful the Supreme Court ruling will not reverse the downward trend in the crime rate.

"We're at historic lows right now, so there isn't a terrible concern about a spike in crime; however, it is certainly always a consideration and a focus," Whitmore said.

Currently, county jails hold an estimated 14,000 inmates, down from a high of 22,000 a few years ago.

The facilities are Pitchess Detention Center, in Castaic; Men's Central Jail and Twin Towers, both downtown; and the Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood.

The Mira Loma Detention Center is a county jail, but is used as a federal lockup.

Source: http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_18124674?source=rss

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