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Prison: Keeping a Promise

September 25, 1985

Among the most urgent unfinished business for the California Legislature is the final authorization of a state prison in Los Angeles County.

Any new prison, regardless of the location, would ease the chronic overcrowding of the state's detention system. More than 48,000 inmates are stuffed into prisons designed for 29,000. Thirty-four percent of the male inmates come from this area. A prison located in Los Angeles would reduce transportation costs both for the state and for families and others who want to visit prisoners.

This sound idea is not a new one. Three years ago the governor and the lawmakers approved a law requiring the state Department of Corrections to put a facility in Los Angeles County. Politics continue to hamper progress.

Gov. George Deukmejian tried to push through the proposal for a Los Angeles site, part of his 11th-hour emergency prison construction package, before the lawmakers recessed. The Senate, after committee hearings, had approved the spending of $31 million to buy a 30-acre site on the edge of downtown Los Angeles, but the Assembly had not yet acted. Assembly Speaker Willie Brown insisted that the Assembly required hearings as well.

Politics aside, both were correct. The prison problem, particularly the slow pace of siting new facilities in the face of local opposition, needs urgent attention. But, in fairness to the community, the urgent action must be matched with full hearings.

The governor's emergency construction program, which was approved in part, will result in 5,000 new beds by next July. That will relieve some of the overcrowding. Throughout the system, men are sleeping in converted kitchens, day rooms, warehouses, food-storage rooms, classrooms and hallways, and occupancy of separate cells has been doubled.

When the governor signed the emergency prison legislation in Los Angeles on Tuesday, he promised that a prison will be built here as the law requires. That promise can now be fulfilled by prompt action of the lawmakers when they return to Sacramento.

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