In a bid to end the early release of jail inmates, Los Angeles County's top fiscal officer on Thursday called for an extra $24 million for the Sheriff's Department -- far less than jail administrators contend is needed.
Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen recommended in a letter to county supervisors the reopening of nearly 1,800 jail beds to keep inmates behind bars longer.
Even with the additional money, which would be spent over the next three years, Janssen warned that a rise in arrests and the state's delays in accepting inmates sentenced to prison would likely mean that the early releases would continue.
"What you have in that letter is a recognition that we should do now what we can afford to do," Janssen said in an interview.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on his recommendation Tuesday.
Janssen's proposal falls well short of the $79 million over three years that Sheriff Lee Baca wants to reopen 4,000 jail beds and beef up security at the violence-prone jails, where five inmates have been killed since October 2003.
Sheriff's officials said they were disappointed with Janssen's recommendation and that, unless more money was found, inmates would continue to leave jail early.
"It's going to make a dent, but not much of one," said Chief Chuck Jackson, who heads the Sheriff's Department's Correctional Services Division.
Baca contends that budget woes have left him with little choice but to close jails and release inmates early. Roughly 120,000 inmates have been freed early since 2002, with most serving just 10% of their court-ordered sentences for offenses that include burglary, minor assault and drunken driving.
Supervisors asked Janssen to advise them on how they could use a $300-million budget surplus to end the early releases the day after voters defeated Measure A, a half-cent sales tax proposal for which Baca had campaigned.
But Janssen said that under his plan, the county would not have to touch its budget surplus. Instead, it could pay to reopen beds by drawing on healthier-than-expected sales tax revenue.
His recommendation does not allow for fully reopening the 2,000-bed Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood.
Baca had asked for nearly $15 million in start-up costs to move women now housed at the Twin Towers jail to the Century facility.
In his letter, Janssen suggested that the board reassess whether the county had enough money to do that during talks for next year's budget, which are scheduled to begin in three months.
An aide to Supervisor Mike Antonovich welcomed Janssen's suggestions and said the board would look seriously at reopening the Century jail. Anna Pembedjian, an Antonovich deputy, noted that under Baca's plan, Century would not reopen until March 2006.
"This is a good beginning to restoring the integrity of the criminal justice system," Pembedjian said. "What Baca wants isn't completely off the table."
Baca's request includes funds for more than just reopening jail beds. He has asked for nearly $10 million to hire more deputies. And sheriff's officials said that another $11 million for security measures would help expand searches of cells for weapons and contraband that were started earlier this year.
"We've not had homicides since we've done that," Jackson said, also noting that five attempted suicides had been prevented by deputies conducting searches.