Alternatives to Incarceration Would Combat Violence and Overcrowding and Allow Shut-Down of Dangerous and Costly Downtown Jail
The central downtown facility in the Los Angeles County jail system, the largest and most violence-plagued in the nation, can be shut down by the end of 2013, according to a new report commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The report, by nationally-renowned corrections expert James Austin and based on data provided by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, finds that Men’s Central Jail can be shuttered by safely releasing 3,000 low-risk, non-violent pre-trial and sentenced inmates into community-based supervision and education programs that will curb recidivism, and by increasing the capacity of the county-wide jail system by 2,000 beds through a repurposing of existing facilities.
Men’s Central, which currently houses more than 4,000 inmates, for years has been ravaged by a pervasive pattern of brutal abuse of inmates by sheriff’s deputies. A report released by the ACLU in September documented civilian eyewitness accounts of the beatings of inmates by deputies and exposed a long-standing culture of violence in the jail.
“The Austin report shows that Los Angeles County can safely shut down Men’s Central Jail and at the same time help end the crisis of mass incarceration in America,” said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “If Sheriff Baca follows the key recommendations in this report, his leadership would provide a national model for reform.”
According to the report, the need to ease overcrowding in the jail system is urgent. Los Angeles County expects an influx of 7,000 state prisoners convicted of non-violent charges and who have no prior violent or sex convictions by 2014 under California’s realignment plan.
The report finds that the county’s jail population could be reduced by 2,000 inmates by allowing those convicted of non-violent offenses to reduce their sentences by participating in an education-based incarceration program providing services aimed at reducing their risk of re-offending. Upon completing the program, inmates would be released into community supervision and continue to be afforded services as needed. The report also finds that the county could cut its jail population by an additional 1,000 inmates by implementing a community-based pretrial program that would rely on sound risk assessment and supervision components and keep people charged with minor crimes from having to be needlessly locked up while awaiting trial.
According to the report, the county could also increase the capacity of the jail system by 2,000 beds and maintain a vacancy rate of 10 percent even in the face of new inmates from the state by modifying and repurposing the North County Correctional Facility to replace the maximum security beds that would be lost by the closure of Men’s Central, and increasing the number of minimum security beds available by assuming control of five county conservation camps being relinquished by the state.
“The ACLU and Sheriff Baca may disagree on many things, but we strongly agree that the Austin report provides a crucial roadmap for closing the infamous Men’s Central Jail, while saving county taxpayers billions of dollars and increasing public safety,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California.
As court-appointed monitor of conditions inside the county’s jail system, the ACLU for years has documented unjustified force by deputies, retaliation against inmates for lodging complaints, severe overcrowding, and mistreatment of the mentally ill in Men’s Central Jail.