Crime & Justice

Report: LA jails face overcrowding, may run out of room

Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail
Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail
Corey Bridwell/KPCC

Los Angeles County's overcrowded jails may run out of space as soon as next month, forcing officials to consider releasing inmates while they await trial, a Los Angeles Times report says.

The influx of as many as 8,000 state prisoners into county jail is expected in the next year, according to the L.A. Times.

An internal report produced by the L.A. County district attorney's office and obtained by the Times estimated that the county jails would be full by the end of the year. The Sheriff's Department has the funding to open only an additional 1,800 beds, far below the number needed to accommodate the surge of state prisoners coming its way, according to the report.

The department is studying a major expansion of its electronic monitoring and home detention programs to keep track of inmates who are released, the Times said.

Sheriff Lee Baca said the department is also developing a new risk-assessment system designed to better identify which inmates are the best candidates to leave the jails. The department also is looking at ways to direct more offenders into education and substance abuse programs rather than jail.

A new law allows sentences to be served at county jails for low-level drug offenders, thieves, and people convicted of involuntary manslaughter or identity theft.

That means some offenders who would normally go to state prisons will instead enter serve time in county facilities as of next year.

Those convicted of sex crimes or violent offenses will continue to serve their sentences in state prison.

Currently, inmates awaiting trial account for about 70 percent of the jail population. Baca tells the Times that number may need to drop to 50 percent.

Police Chief Charlie Beck told the newspaper LA could see a 3 percent uptick in crime because of the changes.

The so-called "prison realignment" began in September and is intended to help save money and reduce recidivism with counties providing better rehabilitation and job training services.

It could also significantly reduce the amount of time criminals spend behind bars. A federal court order against overcrowding has meant that inmates are often released before serving their full sentences.

Between 2002 and 2006, more than 150,000 inmates were freed after serving a fraction of their sentences — many of them less than 10 percent.