LA County contract to send hundreds of inmates to Kern County may be canceled

Erika Aguilar

Men's Central Jail is located in downtown Los Angeles and run by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

A contract to send 512 Los Angeles county jail inmates to a facility in Taft may be canceled as early as next week.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the contract in late September as a means of alleviating crowding in the jails. Two supervisors, Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Riddley-Thomas abstained from the vote, citing questions about funding the contract and where the move fit into the county's long-term jail plans. Supervisors Gloria Molina, Mike Antonovich, and Don Knabe supported the contract as a way of adding jail space and potentially reducing the practice of releasing inmates early because of a lack of beds.

Now, Supervisor Gloria Molina has indicated she's withdrawing her support for the contract and introduced a motion to void it. That item will likely be on the board of supervisors' agenda on October 29. The motion will need three votes to pass.

Roxane Márquez, a spokeswoman for Molina, said the supervisor changed her mind after the county uncovered legal hurdles to quickly sending inmates to the Community Correctional Facility. It is run by the City of Taft, which is near Bakersfield.

"We did not know that the State of California and the City of Taft were involved in litigation about the use of those beds," Márquez said. "We're not interested in getting involved in the lawsuit."

According to online court documents, the City of Taft sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in 2012. In 1996, the state entered a contract to house state prison inmates at the facility through 2017, but pulled inmates out in 2011 when prison realignment went into effect.

According to the city's complaint, Taft had to lay off the correctional facility's employees "and has paid over $500,000 in unemployment benefits." The lawsuit also asks the Los Angeles Superior Court to determine whether the state has continuing rights to lease the beds.

Supervisor Molina's office found out about the lawsuit about a week and a half ago, Márquez said, which is when Molina began to feel that going ahead with the Taft contract would be difficult.

The board of supervisors has contracted with a private construction consulting firm, Vanir, to provide a full assessment of the jail needs for L.A. County. The next report is due in February 2014.

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