Block Hits Courts for Not Helping Cut Jail Crowding

Times Staff Writer

Warning that Los Angeles County jails remain dangerously overcrowded, Sheriff Sherman Block on Tuesday lambasted the courts for failing to adopt methods that he believes would bring prisoners to trial more quickly and reduce jail populations.

Block, in his traditional year-end assessment of the Sheriff's Department's performance, singled out jail overcrowding as the department's most pressing problem in an otherwise "outstanding" 1985.

"The response of the courts toward overcrowding . . . has not been good enough," Block said. "The courts have to be more responsive, to develop procedures that will expedite the process and make it go in a more timely fashion, without diminishing at all the rights of the individuals on trial."

Causes for Delays

Block complained that the courts allow both defense attorneys and prosecutors to delay cases through legal "gamesmanship." Attorneys, he said, often file for and receive needless continuances, and later waste time during the process in which they question and select jurors.

"It's a very time-consuming process," Block said.

He proposed that Superior Court jurors, like those in federal court, be questioned by judges alone. In addition, Block suggested that lawyers' requests for continuances be minimized.

In the past, Block also has recommended that night court sessions be scheduled and that court sessions in the daytime be lengthened.

As of Tuesday, there were 16,550 prisoners housed in eight Los Angeles County Jail facilities; the system has a capacity of 11,824. About three-quarters of the prisoners in custody are awaiting sentencing or trial, and the average wait is more than eight months, Block said.

New Facilities

Block noted Tuesday that construction is expected to begin this month on a 512-bed women's honor camp at Mira Loma. Work also is expected to begin in January on the first phase a 1,600-bed maximum security facility in Saugus.

The additional beds will be welcome, but will not alleviate the problem of overcrowding, the sheriff said.

"The Board of Supervisors has been very responsive . . . but I believe that equally significant in this whole jail overcrowding equation is the failure of the courts to improve upon their procedures," Block said. "We have problems now and they will get worse in 1986 unless something is done."

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