LA County approves drawing up plans for new women's jail

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors took a significant step Tuesday towards constructing a new women's jail in Lancaster.

Supervisors unanimously approved a $5.5 million contract with DLR Group, Inc to provide planning services and create concept drawings for the proposed Mira Loma facility.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich said the county should take a lesson from the state prison system, which is now under federal court order to improve conditions and reduce overcrowding. The same thing, he said, could happen in L.A County.

"That's not unlikely given some of the overcrowding and other issues we have in common with the state," Antonovich said.

Waiting for a court mandate before building can make the whole process more expensive, Antonovich said. Whereas dealing with issues of adequate mental health care and overcrowding now could save money later.

L.A. County has a $100 million grant from the state to construct a women's facility in Mira Loma. To keep on track and keep the grant, the county had to take steps now, said Supervisor Don Knabe.

The Mira Loma facility is part of a larger, tentative jail overhaul plan that would likely include replacing or shuttering Men's Central Jail. The consulting firm Vanir is scheduled to provide an updated report to the board on the county's jail needs in May.

Groups opposed to building more jails also spoke at the board, including those who warned the jail's placement in the Antelope Valley could expose inmates to Valley Fever.

Joseph Maizlish of L.A. No More Jails said the board should not be primarily motivated by the free grant money.

"If we use it unwisely, it's as bad as lost and maybe worse," Maizlish said.

He said despite the advice of numerous groups, including the Vera Institute of Justice, the county has yet to come up with a way of evaluating the risk of releasing inmates who are in jail awaiting trial and not yet sentenced. That, he said, could reduce overcrowding.

Knabe said the board will not approve any actual construction until they consider the full jail needs of the county. The Mira Loma plans the board commissioned on Tuesday are due for approval in September.

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