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County Weighs 6 Jail Plans

Four proposals would require voter approval of tax increase to pay for improvements. Sheriff's top choice wouldn't need such an OK.

July 12, 2006|Jack Leonard | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and budget officials unveiled six proposals Tuesday for building and funding new jail facilities to reduce deadly violence due to overcrowding and to eliminate the early release of thousands of inmates.

The proposals range from a $252-million plan to add about 2,000 beds for low-risk women to a $1-billion project that would add more than 2,000 high-security beds for men.

Four of the alternatives include possible bond measures that would raise property taxes and require county voters' approval. The supervisors must decide to put such a tax increase before voters by Aug. 11 to ensure its inclusion on the November ballot.

That looks increasingly unlikely.

Although supervisors did not vote on any of the alternatives Tuesday, they expressed reservations about supporting a bond measure to pay for jail expansion.

Supervisor Don Knabe said that although some voters might support tax increases to ensure that convicted criminals stay behind bars, few would back higher taxes to improve inmate security or conditions.

"They're not going to be very sympathetic to overcrowding issues or jail safety issues," Knabe said. "They sort of laugh at you when you're out there in public on that."

Since 2002, the county has released more than 150,000 inmates early, many of them after they served less than 10% of their sentences. Thousands have been rearrested on new offenses -- including murder, assault and rape -- when they would otherwise have been behind bars.

But early release is just one of many problems facing jail officials.

The county's facilities are outdated and ill-equipped to handle security for the volume of dangerous inmates they house. Race riots earlier this year left two inmates dead and more than 100 injured. Meanwhile, a federal judge has ordered the county to relieve overcrowding at the Men's Central Jail.

The county recently set aside $168 million for jail improvements. Of the six proposals presented to the board Tuesday, Sheriff Lee Baca favors one that would cost an additional $388 million. County budget analysts estimated that the amount could be financed over 25 years at an annual cost of $25 million.

"We have a general idea of the magnitude of the expenditures that we're looking at and we can finance them," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who asked in March that the county consider a bond measure for jail improvements.

Baca's preferred proposal involves reopening the Sybil Brand Institute for Women -- a plan that has drawn neighbors' opposition -- and building barracks at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.

Chief Administrative Officer David E. Janssen said he would incorporate elements of Baca's preferred plan with other alternatives and make a recommendation by Aug. 1 that probably won't involve a voter-approved bond measure, he said.

"I just didn't detect any support for that today," he said after the board's weekly meeting.

Janssen said he would also work with sheriff's officials on a plan to use electronic monitoring and other types of supervision to free up beds and keep dangerous convicted inmates behind bars. And he said he would analyze the effect of ending the county's $27-million contract with the state to house nearly 1,300 parolees.

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