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The Need Is Real

January 12, 1986

The Los Angeles Times is to be commended on its recent four-part series, "Jails and Justice." Daniel M. Weintraub, Glenn F. Bunting and Jim Schachter wrote an excellent series that depicted how overcrowding affects jails, the courts, the police and the public.

The County of San Diego has been diligent in exploring alternatives to incarceration. The San Diego County Sheriff, Probation Department, Department of Revenue and Recovery and the courts have instituted 29 pre- and post-trial programs. Even with these alternatives to incarceration, there continues to be a need for more jail beds.

This need is real! Police officers and deputies are frustrated when the criminals they arrest are quickly back on the streets because the sheriff has no room in the jails. The public is demanding tougher judges and stricter laws that increase the demand on these overcrowded facilities.

Lawsuits, similar to the one that forced a reduction in the population at the Downtown Jail, are threatened for the overcrowded East County, South County and Vista jails. This will force the courts and sheriff to allow even more accused criminals back on the street and require the early release of those serving time.

The county cannot afford to debt-finance all of the needed facilities without hurting other county-provided discretionary services. If the Board of Supervisors financed the entire package of proposed court and detention facilities, the interest payments alone would cost taxpayers about $58 million per year, and we would merely be saddling the problem and the debt upon our children and grandchildren. Where would the county get $58 million anyway?

The Board of Supervisors is considering placing on the ballot a proposition to increase the local sales tax to pay for construction of jails and courts. Final amounts to be raised will be set only after examination and commitment of alternate sources of funds available to the county. Such a proposition would not circumvent the two-thirds vote required by Proposition 13, but rather it would allow the voters to decide this very important law and order issue.

By publishing the series, the Los Angeles Times provided an excellent service to the community. Overcrowded jails and courts cannot be ignored without someday facing serious consequences.

GEORGE BAILEY

County supervisor

La Mesa

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