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Overcrowded County Jails

May 26, 1996

* Re "Breakdown Behind Bars," series, May 19-21:

It is a horror story that we all knew was coming. Violent criminals walking out of jail in days and returning to terrorize and kill their victims. Drunk drivers with a dozen convictions laughing at justice, just waiting to maim and cripple without a second thought.

The May 20 article says, "The key to easing the problem . . . is additional jail beds." Wrong. The key is legalizing victimless crimes. Judge Veronica Simmons McBeth was amazed that the wife-beater and prostitute were on the street before she got off the bench. The batterer's wife will pray that she makes it through the day without losing her teeth, having her eye swollen shut, or being killed. The prostitute will make a few men feel pleasure, and probably a little more relaxed for an hour.

Between the failed war on drugs and archaic vice laws, we have filled our jails and prisons with people who, in reality, do you or me no harm. Add that to the irrationality of the sound-bite-inspired "three-strikes" law, and we have a justice system that has disintegrated and left Los Angeles with virtually zero protection from the real criminals (the ones who have victims).

ERIC KALLINS

Los Angeles

* I am seething with anger after reading this paragraph, May 22:

"While more than 9,000 jail beds are vacant due to closed jail facilities, tens of thousands of convicted inmates are set free after serving less than 25% of their sentences behind bars. Many of those inmates--one in four, according to a survey by The Times and the city attorney's office--are rearrested within months of their releases."

No, I am not so much angry with our county officials. I am angry with those citizens who are afraid to spend a buck for the public good. And at all those pandering politicians whose only campaign slogan is "cut taxes." These people are accessories to the crimes that prematurely released criminals commit.

LEROY MILLER

West Hills

* Refreshing example of city-county cooperation, May 20: "L.A. County Jail Inmates Serve Only 25% of Sentences" due to overcrowding, and "City Council Wants to Slow Police Buildup." This should avoid a steep increase in arrests, which would aggravate the county's problem.

Maybe there's help: "Sheriff Houses Inmate Overflow in Tents." This was done in World War II with acceptable humanity. But that was a war.

MACY BAUM

Los Angeles

* Has anyone looked into the expansion of prison camps for submissive, tractable prisoners? This would leave the existing maximum security penitentiaries less crowded, thus subducing the need for the premature release of hardened or dangerous evildoers.

No one wants a prison in one's neighborhood, but establishing more inexpensive army-type encampments in uninhabited desert areas would erase that caveat. Better still, use one of the largely uninhabited Channel Islands, where a 50-mile "moat" would be all the security fencing we'd need. Moreover, segregating would prevent the "hard" criminal from indoctrinating the "soft" species, a future crime reducer.

LOUIS M. NEUMARK

Northridge

* The article concerning the release of inmates that serve only 25% of their sentences not only indicates the serious condition of our society but it is also a statement about the lack of justice relating to this condition.

It's hard to imagine that the laws which require incarceration do not also require the enforcement of this incarceration.

Creative thinking would be required to deal with this condition, which currently does not seem to exist. If laws are not upheld then the cycle of lawlessness will only get worse.

GLEN E. KNOBLOCK

Los Angeles

* Without incarceration there is no enforcement. Without enforcement there is no law. And, please tell our grandstanding politicians to stop adding death-sentence crimes to our almost nonexistent capital punishment system.

HERMAN STEINMAN

North Hollywood

* In your May 21 editorial about the state of affairs of the Los Angeles County jail system you blame Sheriff Sherman Block for making an "ill-timed decision to shift members of his force from jail operation to patrol cars."

May I remind you that the public, all the civic leaders, the Kolts Commission and The Times were demanding more officers on the street? Make up your mind, you can't have it both ways. There are only so many officers to go around.

TRENT D. SANDERS

La Canada

* Regarding the morale-busting necessity of deputy sheriffs to spend as much as seven years on jail duty, May 21:

Is it not possible to establish a massive rotation system so that all deputies move through different duties from day one, each man or woman spending time on jail duty, in patrol cars, on the streets, doing whatever job is called for in the department? Seems to me one might be able to sustain a healthier and more positive attitude if he/she knew there was no "sentence" of seven years before you left a caretaking job in the overcrowded jail.

GORDON COHN

Long Beach

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