Will realignment help ease crowding issues facing LA County jails?
The Los Angeles County jail system currently holds 18,600 inmates – up from around 15,000 a year ago -- making it the country’s largest. Part of that number is due to the city’s high population, but the recent spike in jail numbers is due to California’s “realignment” program.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that conditions must be improved in overcrowded California state prisons, California’s response was to move inmates from state facilities to county jails. The Sheriff’s Department predicts that they will run out of space for housing by Christmas, so officials are currently in talks with other parts of the state to deal with the overflow.
Shafter and Taft, two cities in Kern County with currently empty jails, could conceivably house 1,000 of L.A. county’s low-level offenders. This plan may even extend all the way to the Central Valley, with Coalinga and Delano taking on another thousand. The cost of housing a prisoner in one of these jails is around $61 a day – around half the cost in the L.A. facility.
Law enforcement officials are dedicated to making sure every class of criminal serves at least the minimum allotted time, and they hope for a deal to be struck in the fall, before the system begins to overflow.
Does this proposal make sense for L.A. County? If overcrowding is what got all these prisoners here in the first place, is the problem with the jails or with the entire prison system? What steps are being taken within and outside of jails to combat the flow of criminals inside?
Steve Whitmore, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department spokesman
Celeste Fremon, Editor of WitnessLA.com; Senior fellow at the USC Institute for Justice and Journalism