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Sunday Special / Valley Briefing

Peter Pitchess Detention Center

October 25, 1998

Nestled in the rolling hills near Castaic, on 2,620 acres, is Los Angeles County's largest jail complex.

Peter J. Pitchess Detention Center is the temporary home of about 8,600 men awaiting trial on a variety of crimes, as well as parole violators serving sentences of up to a year.

The facility--which includes two maximum-security and two medium-security jails and is administered by the county Sheriff's Department--began 60 years ago as the Wayside Honor Rancho, a minimum-security prison where inmates worked on a farm setting.

Because many of the inmates were there on alcohol-related offenses, it was nicknamed "Wayside Drunk Farm." Eugene Biscailuz, then the sheriff of L.A. County, was the driving force behind the honor farm, which was California's first. Biscailuz believed that working outdoors in the facility's wheat fields and cattle, dairy and hog farms would help rehabilitate the prisoners.

But eventually, budget constraints, overcrowding at other jails and changes in philosophy eventually brought an end to the honor farm atmosphere. Now, only the empty fields and a freeway overpass sign stating "Wayside Honor Rancho" remain as a testament to the past.

East Facility

Started as a simple disciplinary housing unit for minimum-security inmates working on the farm. Later became the facility's first maximum-security jail. Once included a bakery and print shop where inmates received vocational training.

Built: 1951

Cost: $2.5 million

Men per dorm: 110

Total capacity: 1,830

North Facility

One of two medium-security jails at Pitchess, containing four buildings.

Built: 1987

Cost: $47 million

Men per dorm: 90

Total capacity: 1,450

South Facility

Medium-security jail that offers inmates vocational programs such as masonry, dog grooming and carpentry. Inmates work on crews at the county Fire Department's Fire Suppression Training Camp No. 12, which a sign affectionately calls "Disneyland."

Built: 1971

Cost: N/A

Men per dorm: 85

Total capacity: 1,700

North County Correctional Facility

State-of-the-art maximum-security facility offers vocational training in printing, bakery production and clothes manufacturing. Includes a 16-bed hospital dorm.

Built: 1990

Cost: $147 million

Men per dorm: 58

Total capacity: 3,700

Typical weekly food consumption by prisoners at Pitchess

19,620 loaves of bread

1,440 dozen corn tortillas

738,159 half pints of low-fat milk

17,300 pounds of lunch meat

2,450 pounds of Salisbury steak

2,350 pounds of breaded fish

41,760 waffles

5,040 pounds of potatoes

1,000 pounds of pitted prunes

4,800 large cans of tomato catsup

178 cases of apples

178 cases of oranges

Typical weekly food budget: $157,500


1938: Wayside Honor Rancho, first honor farm in California, opened to house a few select prisoners. Dairy farmer George Dunn had sold county the property for $147,150.

1951: Prisoner population up to about 3,000. Texaco discovers oil on jail property.

1957: East Facility enlarged to accommodate more than 700 maximum-security inmates.

1958: Peter J. Pitchess becomes sheriff.

1963: East Facility expanded again; cogeneration plant built to provide energy for jail.

1975: Rancho laundry facility built. Prisoners previously worked at facility, but no longer do.

1982: Sherman Block becomes sheriff.

1983: Facility renamed Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho.

1992: Farming operations eliminated.

1993: Elmer T. Jaffe Visitor Center built.

1995: Ranch compound closed due to budget constraints. Name of facility changed to Pitchess Detention Center.

'97-'98 Budget (gross)

Sheriff's Department: $1,145 billion

Custody Divison: $341 million

Facts About Pitchess

Average number of days a year film crews are at Pitchess; 15


Number of Inmates transported to court daily: Approximately 350


Municipal and Superior courthouses where Inmates are taken: Van Nuys, San Fernando, Burbank, Pasadena, Newhall, Antelope Valley, Malibu and downtown Los Angeles.


Average number of two-strikes Inmates facing a third strike: 78


Number of employess: 780 sworn deputies; 650 civilians.


Amount of weekly overtime for Custody Divison: $950,000


Average number of adult visitors per weekend: 5,700


Daily cost of maintaining a prisoner: $40.84 ('97-'98)



Inmate disturbances from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30: 50 (35 minor; 15 major)


In the 35 minor incidents, 1.025 inmates were involved and 160 were injured.


In the 15 major incidents, 1,610 inmates were involved and 191 were injured.

Sources: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department; Researched by STEPHANIE STASSEL/Los Angeles Times

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