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Costly Renovation Proposed for Los Angeles County Jails

The LA County Board of Supervisors may soon approve a proposed renovation for two of the county’s jails, with an estimated cost of $1.4 billion. Both the Sheriff and the County Chief Executive believe that the renovations will serve to improve the safety of the system as well as reduce operating costs. Some members of the Board would prefer an alternative with a lower price tag.

With today’s economy, county officials will have to determine if the benefits of the renovation will outweigh the huge cost. It may be possible to find lower-cost alternatives to improve the facilities rather than divert those funds away from other important services that would also benefit from that money.

The proposal includes renovations to the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles as well as additions to the jail in Castaic, Pitchess Detention Center. The layout of Men’s Central Jail causes difficulty in observing the large population of inmates. Sheriff Lee Baca and County Chief executive William Fujioka both endorse the plan, feeling that modernizing the facilities will make them both safer and less costly to operate.

Some supervisors feel that such an enormous project needs to be voted on by the public.

A meeting is set for the end of the month in which supervisors will discuss the proposal. Other, less expensive, options will also be considered. These could include renovating only certain portions of the jails and the possibility of putting less-violent offenders on house arrest for the duration of their sentence.

The proposed renovations would allow for an additional 400 beds. This isn’t much when compared to the currently filled 23,000 beds. However, making modern improvements to the Men’s Central Jail will boost efficiency. Rather than having long rows of inmate cells, inmates will be housed in smaller groupings

At this time, violent inmates are housed in cells with ten beds in order to separate them from the rest of the population. Under the proposed plan, the jails will have 4,000 beds for high-security inmates in smaller cells. This will make it much easier to separate prisoners when the need arises.

A few of the county supervisors feel that it might be best to wait to see the full impact of California’s new realignment plan. Starting in October, state prisoners were transferred to county jails to serve out their sentences as part of the realignment in order to alleviate overcrowding in state prisons.

Los Angeles County was told to expect an extra 600 inmates last month. The actual number was closer to 900. This has led to concerns that county jails will soon be facing overcrowding issues themselves.
Source: $1.4-billion renovation proposed for two L.A. County jails

Published: 12/04/2011