L.A. County to stop holding state prisoners
Decision likely to increase overcrowding
By Mason Stockstill Staff Writer,
CHINO -- California's already jam-packed prisons, including the men's institution in Chino, will be even more crowded following a recent decision by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Last week, the board voted to end an agreement for about 1,200 state prisoners to be held in
Los Angeles County jails. The move was intended to free up space in crowded county facilities.
However, that just means shifting the inmates back into one of 33 state prisons -- most of which are operating at twice their intended capacity.
"It will exacerbate our population overcrowding issues, but we'll deal with it," said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The move comes at a critical time for the state prison system. The Legislature began a special session to discuss prison overcrowding Monday, and the governor has proposed spending up to $6 billion on new facilities.
Under the previous contract, the state paid Los Angeles County $27 million annually to hold male inmates at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic. Most of the inmates were parole violators who would otherwise have served their short sentences in state prison.
Rotating those state inmates out of the county facility probably will take up to six months, said Victor Rampulla of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
"The state will begin, over the next several months, phasing out the prisoners that are there," Rampulla said. "They won't be putting any more in."
Where they'll go is an open-ended question. The state prisons already hold more than 171,000 inmates, and the department's secretary says there's room for only a few more.
Officers at the California Institution for Men in Chino are concerned their prison could bear the brunt of the population increase, since the department tries to house inmates in prisons near their home communities.
"It's way too soon to predict that, but certainly we're a reception center," said Martin Aroian, president of the CIM chapter of the officers' union. "We take a fair amount of Los Angeles County inmates."
CIM is home to 6,538 inmates, more than twice what it was designed for. Crowding was so bad at the crumbling prison in June that 42 inmates slept outdoors one night when no beds could be found for them.
State officials are considering several plans to deal with the population crisis, including shipping illegal immigrants in California prisons to a privately operated, 550-bed prison in Michigan.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for building two new prisons and several community "pre-release" centers as a way to deal with overcrowding in the state's institutions.
But the powerful correctional officers union announced its opposition to that plan Monday, saying that building new prisons would just make matters worse.