L.A. County Board Mulls $672 Million Jail Overhaul

LOS ANGELES — County supervisors are considering a $672 million plan for the phased closure of the 6,800-bed Men’s Central Jail as part of an overhaul of the largest jail system in the United States.

The proposal to relieve chronic overcrowding and modernize county jails would increase jail system capacity by more than 1,100 beds by 2012, while closing outdated, substandard facilities, officials say.

In the wake of a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU, U.S. District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson called for the comprehensive reform of the 18,000-inmate county jail system. In 2006, Pregerson ordered the formation of a joint-county ACLU panel to address conditions and problems at the Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.

The older 585,150-square-foot portion of the Men’s Central, built in 1963 to house 3,322 inmates, would be closed under the new proposal, while approximately $19 million would be used to renovate the newer 350,000-square-foot portion of Men’s Central to provide an additional 1,796 beds, officials say.

Despite the investment and expansion, the newer portion of the jail, which was built in 1976, could also be closed under the plan, officials say. A recent review estimated it would cost more than $1 billion to refurbish Men’s Central and about $1.8 billion to rebuild the facility.

The plan proposes constructing a $330 million, 1,152-bed high-security facility at the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, which functions primarily as an ICE detention center.

A new $156 million, 1,024-bed jail would replace existing facilities for female inmates at the Sybil Brand Institute in Monterey Park, which was closed after sustaining significant damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

A $152 million, 1,024-bed facility would be built to expand capacity at the Pitchess Detention Center complex in Castaic.

Almost $260 million in previously budgeted county funding and a more than $490 million bond issue would finance the proposed overhaul, officials say. The lease-revenue nature of the bonds means the county does not require voter approval of the proposed financing measure.
The proposal, which significantly revises the existing $258 million jail plan approved in 2006, also emphasizes systematic reforms and programs to reduce overcrowding.

The pre-trial processing of inmates would be streamlined and substance abuse programs would be expanded to divert offenders and reduce pressure on the jail system, officials say. The plan would also expand alternatives to incarceration, such as electronic tracking of offenders.

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