County jails to keep state prisoners
By Troy Anderson, Staff writer
Los Angeles County supervisors directed staff Tuesday to proceed with a $300 million plan to curb violence and reduce overcrowding in the nation's largest jail system, but balked at terminating a contract to house state prisoners in county jails.
Despite directing jail officials last month to explore ending the $27 million contract to house about 1,200 state prisoners in county jails, supervisors continued the debate Tuesday after learning Sheriff Lee Baca opposed that plan.
The supervisors decided to delay a decision on terminating the contract until Baca returns from an anti-terrorism conference in Israel.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the county already has lost a couple million dollars returning state inmates who violate parole back to prison and cannot afford to lose the entire contract.
"I'm not even going to say it was a bad idea," Yaroslavsky said. "Prorated over the whole year, we're talking about a lot of money. I understand you're going to ask the board to backfill that loss of revenue. It would have been nice to know that when we were having the discussion Feb. 21."
But Supervisor Michael Antonovich said the county should proceed with its plan to terminate the state contract to help improve conditions in the jails, where recent riots left two inmates dead and more than 150 injured.
"For a misguided contract where someone thinks we are going to make a buck we are jeopardizing our law enforcement personnel and inmates in our jails," Antonovich said. "We have a responsibility to use our resources to protect the community. If it means we have to spend additional funds, that's why Proposition 1A was passed so public safety would have a higher priority.
"It's very important when we've had all these killings and injuries in the jails that we do all we can to ensure that those we are responsible for we are able to handle."
The board did opt to proceed with the $300 million plan to fix long-standing problems by boosting the sheriff's budget, reopening
three jails and placing a bond measure on the November ballot.
Custody Services Division Chief Marc Klugman said he expects to complete the transfer of female inmates from Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles to the Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood by this weekend.
That will allow jail officials to move high-security inmates into Twin Towers.
Currently, suicidal inmates, child molesters, gang members and inmates with extensive criminal records are often housed with low-security inmates because the county only has about 2,800 high security beds for 5,000 to 7,000 high security inmates.
Eventually, jail officials hope to reopen the shuttered Sybil Brand Institute for female inmates, freeing up even more single-cell beds for high-risk male inmates.
"This is paramount to our entire plan," Klugman said.
Klugman said the department will need to hire an additional 939 deputies and custody assistants to staff the reopened jails.
Thanks to a recent agreement that will increase Sheriff's Department pay by 18.5 percent over the next three years, Assistant Sheriff Paul Tanaka said the department expects to hire 1,000 deputies in each of the next two years and reduce its annual attrition rate from a record 600 to 400.
"That will start to close the gap on vacancies," Tanaka said. "And thanks to the contract recently agreed to by your board and the unions, we may have put to rest concerns that we'd have larger than usual loss of personnel this spring."