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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : All-Male Jail Not Needed Yet for Female Inmates

October 06, 1993|DOUGLAS ALGER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CASTAIC — Women won't join Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho jail's all-male inmate population for at least a few more months, thanks to the fact that fewer female inmates are in custody countywide than first projected.

Honor Rancho was to house women for the first time beginning in September--the result of closing the Mira Loma Jail west of Lancaster for budgetary reasons.

Los Angeles County's female inmate population didn't grow as expected last month, however, avoiding an overflow from the Sybil Brand Institute, according to Cmdr. Bob Pash, head of the custody division of the Sheriff's Department.

Sybil Brand is the county's primary facility for female inmates, with a capacity of 2,175. Although Mira Loma's closure in August added 460 inmates to Sybil Brand, the female population now has leveled off at 2,039.

"Our early concerns were that at our recent peak period we would go beyond our capacity," said Pash. "We had fully expected to (house women at Honor Rancho), but our female population remained stable. I can't explain it."

Inmate populations normally peak in September, but jail officials are guessing a new formula used for prioritizing early releases may be keeping the female population in check.

In use for a few months, the Release Level Matrix assigns a value to each prisoner's crime. Nonviolent offenses, such as prostitution, are given lesser values than violent crimes, and inmates with the lowest totals are released earlier. Women traditionally commit less violent crimes.

"The theory (is) the low numbers mean the inmate presents the least danger to the community," Pash said.

All inmates traditionally served about 60% of their sentence before being released, while the new system has minor offenders serving about half their sentence and major offenders serving about 80%, Pash estimated.

Honor Rancho houses about 10,000 inmates--all male--on a 2,400-acre site east of the Golden State Freeway, with 1,600 in the north facility. The county began using it as a "drunk farm" in the 1930s to put alcohol offenders to work in the fields.

Law enforcement officials in August adapted one of four modular living areas at Honor Rancho's north compound to house up to 400 women.

Preparations included new laundry machines for individual undergarment washing, electrical outlets for hair dryers and privacy screens in the shower areas. Provisions were also made for cosmetics to be added to the dorm's in-house store.

Pash said the changes will allow the Castaic jail to act as a safety valve if the female inmate population exceeds Sybil Brand's capacity in the future.

The next peak period for inmate populations generally occurs between January and February.

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