LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The ACLU of Southern California commends the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for approving a study by the Vera Institute of Justice on how to effectively reduce the county's overcrowded and inefficient jail system while saving taxpayers millions of dollars. Preliminary work on the new study will get under way this week.

The ACLU/SC has long supported efforts to reduce the county's dangerously overcrowded jail system, which is the largest and most congested jail system in the nation, and has an average length of stay that is two to three times greater than other, comparable jails. Longer length of stay means greater overcrowding, intolerable living conditions for inmates and increased security risks for both deputies and inmates.

'Los Angeles County's criminal justice system is so backed up that many people are stuck for months in the jail, although they pose no risk to public safety, simply because they are too poor to make bail. Although these pretrial detainees are presumed innocent, the overcrowded conditions in which they are housed expose them to extreme violence and harsh and degrading conditions that violate all constitutional minimums,' said Melinda Bird, ACLU/SC senior counsel.

'We hope that with the help of consultants from Vera, the county will implement much-needed systematic changes, including the creation of comprehensive, pretrial alternatives for inmates with mental and physical disabilities. These are needed to halt the revolving door between incarceration and the street, save taxpayers money and create a humane and safer way to treat those awaiting trial,' Bird added.

The ACLU/SC is the court-ordered monitor of conditions and medical care within all Los Angeles County jail facilities.

Vera Institute is a nationally renowned non-profit organization that has worked with New York City to develop strategies for managing jail populations. After New York implemented many of Vera's recommendations, its jail population fell --without any increase in crime -- from 21,000 inmates in 1991 to 14,000 inmates in 2003.

The first step in the study will begin at noon on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 when representatives of the Vera Institute will lay out plans for the study to the county's top law-enforcement officials at a public meeting of the Chief Executive Office/Countywide Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee. The meeting is at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration, 500 West Temple Street, Room 739.