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Block Suggests Using National Guard to Staff 3 County Jails


Sheriff Sherman Block suggested to Los Angeles County supervisors Thursday that California National Guard personnel could be used this summer to staff three county jails he otherwise would close for budgetary reasons.

In a letter to the supervisors, Block said that if the board declared a state of emergency, he would ask the governor for the Guard troops to staff the Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho in Castaic, the Mira Loma facility in the Antelope Valley and the Biscailuz Center in East Los Angeles.

Aides said Wednesday that Block decided to initiate a process May 3 leading to the closure of Mira Loma, Biscailuz and part of Pitchess. But in his letter to the supervisors, the sheriff suggested that alternatives be tried first.

First, he urged the supervisors to lobby in Sacramento for legislation transferring to Los Angeles County part of an additional $200 million that Gov. Pete Wilson has proposed be appropriated for the state Department of Corrections. He said the money would help "keep custodial facilities and law enforcement programs operating."

If this effort fails, he recommended that the state of emergency be declared to clear the way for using the Guard.

The sheriff acknowledged in an interview Wednesday that use of Guard troops in the prisons could only be a temporary measure and probably would not be popular with the Guard. But he said it would be worthwhile if it helped avert the need to eliminate 7,500 of the county's 22,000 jail beds.

The sheriff already has closed a fourth jail, the one at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles.

Block said a further massive loss of beds would lead to release not only of all those inmates convicted of misdemeanors but of some prisoners charged with low-grade felonies as well. And it would necessitate the use of felons as trustees--working on jail maintenance and in cafeterias, for instance--for the first time.

In his letter, Block also indicated that if he goes ahead with layoff notices June 1, only about 340 deputies and 60 non-uniformed employees would receive them--not the 2,000 that would have to be laid off if a full $152-million projected budget cut comes about.

These initial steps presume that deputies agree to take an 8.25% salary cut and that the Sheriff's Department budget is cut only 8% rather than the 25% he has been told to prepare for, Block said.

The sheriff noted pointedly that regardless of whether heavier or lighter jail closings and personnel layoffs are implemented, they will come at a time when the area is experiencing "a rapid and terrifying increase in violent crime against the members of its communities."

"Since January, 1993, two Compton police officers were murdered execution-style," Block wrote. "A Garden Grove police officer was shot to death. Recently, a young pregnant woman was stabbed, killing her and her unborn child. Carjacking victims have been brutally murdered. Burglaries and other violent crimes are occurring everywhere, regardless of the time and place. Gang violence claims the lives of our youth on a daily basis."

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