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Sheriff Seeks $300 Million for Jail System

Baca hopes to reopen Sybil Brand Institute and build or expand facilities to ease chronic crowding blamed for killings and riots.

July 11, 2006|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

Responding to a variety of pressures, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca will propose today that the county spend more than $300 million to add thousands of beds to improve conditions in its aging and overcrowded jail system.

Baca said Monday that he would ask the Board of Supervisors to approve paying to reopen the Sybil Brand Institute for Women in Monterey Park, build a minimum-security women's jail in Castaic and add hundreds of new high-security cells for male inmates at the North County Correctional Facility.

The proposal would allow the department to move more than 2,000 women out of a high-security jail in Lynwood, which would be used to house some of the county's most dangerous male inmates.

Each project would take more than 18 months but would represent a significant step toward adding beds and improving safety in the nation's largest jail system, Baca said.

"I'm very encouraged," the sheriff said. "The board is working aggressively, the county administrative office is working aggressively and the Sheriff's Department is working aggressively to come up with a number of options to improve the system."

The Sheriff's Department for several years has been releasing inmates early because it does not have enough beds. Most inmates serve less than 10% of their sentences. The department has also had difficulty separating the most dangerous inmates from the rest of the population, a problem that officials say contributed to a series of jail killings and riots.

The department is planning to move 1,200 inmates out of the aging downtown Men's Central Jail, which a federal judge said recently is so overcrowded that conditions are "not consistent with basic human values." That jail holds six inmates in cells intended for four, and four inmates in cells intended for two. After the transfers, the four-man cells would hold four inmates and the two-man cells would hold only two inmates, Baca said.

"For the inmates in those cells it will definitely improve their living conditions and it will also facilitate the requirement for them to have regular exercise because there will be fewer inmates," Baca said. "It will improve how we operate the jail. No question about it."

Jody Kent, who monitors the jails for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said decreasing the population at the downtown Los Angeles jail is an important step. It was at the ACLU's urging that U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson toured Men's Central Jail in May before ordering the department to improve conditions.

"We're really encouraged they're reducing the population as much as they are," Kent said. "We think it's going to improve safety for the inmates and the deputies and bring things closer to the standards they should be at."

County officials and the Sheriff's Department have been working together for months to devise a strategy for the jail system, which houses about 18,000 inmates.

The supervisors will be given several options to consider today, said Jan Takata of the county's administrative office.

The board set aside nearly $200 million in this year's budget to increase jail capacity. Any improvements beyond that amount would have to be financed, Takata said.

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