Los Angeles needs a new jail. That's what the ACLU/SC is telling county leaders. The decrepit, overcrowded Men's Central Jail puts inmates and guards at risk of disease and violence. The answer: Tear it down and rebuild it smaller.

The ACLU/SC supports calls from Sheriff Lee Baca and special monitor Merrick Bobb to demolish the sprawling jail near downtown L.A.

Senior Counsel Melinda Bird also urged county supervisors at a Nov. 27 meeting to think creatively about how to reduce L.A.'s jail population, now the nation's highest.

"Building a new jail is prohibitively expensive only if we assume that we must replace 6,000 beds," she said. "A new jail tower with 1,000 or 2,000 beds, constructed next to Men's Central Jail, will cost far less than renovation and come on line faster."

The ACLU/SC urged L.A. to follow the path taken by New York City, which shrunk its jail population by one-third during the 1990s through common-sense steps. These included faster processing of defendants in the criminal justice system, pre-trial diversion programs, and improved discharge planning for inmates with mental illness and addictions.

These reforms would also help end the department's addiction to stopgap measures such as early release.

"If we could speed court processing so that average length of stay was reduced by just three days, we would save 2,000 beds without resorting to early release," Bird said.

These alternatives keep the community safe, but are far cheaper than building prison beds.