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L.A. County to hire outside consultant for jails revamp plan

Supervisors take the action after being unsatisfied with Chief Executive William T Fujioka's nearly $1-billion proposal to modernize the jails.

March 19, 2013|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, shown, along with Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, say that a recent plan to improve the county's jails "does not include several important elements necessary for the board to make informed decisions about a project of this magnitude."
Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, shown, along with Supervisor… (Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles…)

Two Los Angeles County supervisors, frustrated by what they see as a lack of progress in finding a plan to improve the county's troubled jail system, convinced their colleagues on Tuesday to approve hiring an outside consultant to help speed up the pace.

The consultants would provide basic information, including a description of existing facilities, a profile of inmates and construction options, that could be compared to plans already submitted by county Chief Executive William T Fujioka.

Supervisors have been debating what to do with the overcrowded and outdated jails for several years, and some have been at odds with Fujioka over the speed of the planning and the chief executive's most recent proposal to spend nearly $1 billion on building or renovating jails.

The plan "does not include several important elements necessary for the board to make informed decisions about a project of this magnitude," supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Gloria Molina wrote in requesting the consultant.

The supervisors' request also criticized several aspects of the plan, which proposed including nearly 1,300 beds for female inmates. "This proposal gives no justification or rationale for the total beds proposed, given there are in excess of 2,400 female inmates currently in custody," it said.

The item passed unanimously with little comment, but Antonovich has been sharply critical of Fujioka, saying he has not given the board enough information to make decisions about the jails.

"It's ineptness," Antonovich said in an earlier interview. "The CEO has failed to present us a plan in a timely manner, and costs are going to escalate because of the delay."

Molina declined to comment Tuesday but has also complained that supervisors sometimes get inaccurate or conflicting information from county executives.

Fujioka said he was not concerned with the board's action. "They want to make sure they've crossed all their i's and dotted their t's," he said, adding that he was confident the consultants would find no fault in his proposals.

Fujioka's current plan is the latest in a long line of attempts to update the county's aging 21,700-bed jail system. Last year, the board did not approve a proposal backed by Fujioka and Sheriff Lee Baca to spend $1.4 billion to renovate and rebuild two jails.

Fujioka and Baca argued that the county should take advantage of low construction costs to modernize the facilities, but supervisors balked at the price tag.

Since then, county officials have also considered sending some prisoners to state-run fire camps or vacant jails in Kern County, turning an existing facility in Lancaster into jail space, and releasing some nonviolent prisoners to serve their sentences at home or in other facilities.

The supervisors also asked for an analysis on the county's Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, which had previously been rented by the federal government to hold immigration detainees but has been vacant since November when the lease was not renewed.

Antonovich has been interested in finding out if the facility could be converted to house county prisoners.

"It should absolutely be part of our comprehensive plan," he said.

Peter Eliasberg, an inmate-advocate and legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, said he was pleased with the board's action.

"What is so troubling about this is I've seen a five- and six-year history of the CEO rolling out jail plan after jail plan, each less thought out and properly planned than the one before," he said.

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