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Supervisors OK Prison Operated by Private Firm

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Times Staff Writer

As angry residents shouted their opposition, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday narrowly approved a controversial plan to convert a juvenile detention camp near Saugus into Southern California’s first privately run adult prison.

The board action followed a two-hour hearing attended by more than 100 opponents who live near the Artesian Oaks juvenile camp in the rural upper Bouquet Canyon area.

Board Chairman Pete Schabarum joined Supervisors Ed Edelman and Deane Dana in voting to grant the three-year conditional-use permit that will allow a private firm, Management and Training Corp. of Ogden, Utah, to contract with the state to operate the minimum-security prison for 100 adult parole violators. The firm recently opened a similar facility in San Mateo in Northern California.

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New Facility

Under Edelman’s motion, the permit will be granted only when the private firm and the county reach agreement on a proposal to establish a 200-bed juvenile facility at Lake View Medical Center, a Lake View Terrace hospital that closed last month. The 48 juveniles now at Artesian Oaks would be moved to the new facility.

Although he agrees with protesting residents that there are too many prisons in northern Los Angeles County, Schabarum said, the state’s willingness for the private sector to participate is “a step forward” in the effort to solve the problem of overcrowded prisons and jails. Currently, there are about 7,000 inmates in eight state and county facilities in the northern part of the county.

The county’s jails, which are almost 3,700 prisoners over capacity, currently house about 1,600 state parole violators, Schabarum said. He noted that the new facility will admit only Los Angeles County residents who have violated their parole.

Dana called the private prison concept “a ray of hope” in the battle to solve the problem of where to put the increasing numbers of jail and prison inmates.

Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Kenneth Hahn voted against the proposal.

“What we’re doing is taking the burden of the state and placing it on the county,” Hahn said.

Petition Presented

Residents presented the board with a petition containing 2,000 signatures opposing the adult prison. They expressed concerns about their safety from escaped prisoners and their visitors, despite assurances from the state Department of Corrections that it will insure through a screening process that the adult prisoners admitted to the facility will be low-risk offenders.

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“Call it what it is, it’s a railroad job,” one angry woman shouted as Dana announced which way he would vote.

Larry Rankin, spokesman for protesters, said the coalition of homeowners’ groups probably will seek a court injunction to stop the conversion.

The San Mateo and Artesian Oaks facilities represent the state’s first steps toward use of privately operated prisons, a subject of nationwide debate in recent years and a growing trend in other states. Entrepreneurs such as Management and Training Corp. that have entered the corrections market insist that private enterprise can build and operate high-quality prisons at a lower cost than the state, because government bureaucracy prevents innovation and efficiency.

Illegal Aliens

Three years ago, when the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service contracted with a private for-profit company for short-term, minimum-security confinement of illegal aliens in Pasadena, state Department of Corrections officials said they were skeptical of the private prison concept.

However, department spokesman Rufus Morris said the state has examined the concept more carefully and currently is seeking locations throughout California as potential sites for privately run prison facilities.

The state will provide about six sworn peace officers to supervise 35 personnel hired by the private firm to run the Artesian Oaks prison, Morris said.

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Management and Training Corp. currently operates 11 facilities housing 6,000 juveniles and adults in other states, Morris said. The firm was chosen over several other bidders for the California contract.

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