September 26, 2013
By ELIZABETH MARCELLINO
City News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS) - In an effort to reduce jail overcrowding, the Board of Supervisors today approved a five-year, $75 million contract to house 512 county inmates at a jail run by the city of Taft.
Community activists had spoken out against the move for months, arguing that it is a mistake to relocate inmates 118 miles away from downtown Los Angeles, separated from family and friends who provide a link to the world outside jail.
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky abstained from the 3-0 vote. Yaroslavsky expressed concern about the source of funding, while Ridley-Thomas tried to persuade his colleagues to postpone the decision to work on a more comprehensive solution, including alternatives to incarceration.
“To move this issue forward at this point is putting the cart before the horse,'' Ridley-Thomas said.
But the county is trying to ensure that convicts who pose a threat to the community serve the majority of their sentences, and Supervisor Gloria Molina argued that the time to take action was now.
The lack of space in county jails means that the lowest-level male offenders serve 20 percent, on average, of their court-mandated sentence, while female inmates serve 10 percent.
Those convicted of lower-level offenses but originally charged with violent or serious crimes, such as manslaughter, kidnapping, mayhem, robbery and child molestation, serve an average of 40 percent of their sentences before being released, according to Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald.
Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka said that if the county didn't commit in the next 30 to 60 days, state officials would likely contract for the space at Taft to alleviate their own problems with overcrowded correctional facilities.
Opponents argued that low-level offenders, particularly those suffering from mental illness, should be moved out of jails and into community-based facilities.
Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said a pretrial release program could free up 700 beds.
A 2011 report by the Vera Institute of Justice showed ``there were 700 or more low-level offenders in the jails who would pose no risk to the community but could not make bail,'' Eliasberg said. ``This board, with one stroke of the pen, can give the Sheriff's Department the authority to do pre- trial release without bail through electronic monitoring.''
The Taft Community Correctional Facility will be paid about $60 per inmate per day, versus the $118 per inmate per day average cost to keep someone behind bars in a county facility.