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Proposition 52: Jail Construction

A Yes vote on Proposition 52 is vital to the administration of justice in Los Angeles County and throughout the state.

In the Letters to the Editor section (May 20) Maygene Giari argues that if jail construction is needed solely to separate minor and serious offenders then “why not send them (minor offenders) home to wait trial instead of building more expensive jails?” Her premise is at best inaccurate and, unfortunately, a distortion of what type of inmate is housed in country jails statewide, and specifically, within the Los Angeles County jail system.

Our Los Angeles County jail system now has 20,000-plus inmates in facilities the state Board of Corrections has determined should house 11,800. This 20,000-inmate population is comprised of almost 13,000 inmates who, as Giari puts it, are “awaiting trial.” Sadly, they have not committed minor offenses. More than 10,000 (80%) of the 13,000 awaiting trial are accused of felonies--murders, rapes, robberies and burglaries. The fact that the Los Angeles County jail system provides 38% of the entire state prison population is dramatic proof of the type of prisoner held in the Los Angeles County jail system.

Giari, therefore, can be quite comfortable in supporting Proposition 52 inasmuch as the issue of jail construction is certainly not predicated on minor offenders. A further illustration of this fact is that 46% of all inmates sentenced on a felony conviction are sentenced to local jails in lieu of state prison.

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For years the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has made efforts to reduce the number of nonviolent and minor offenders incarcerated in our jails. We have cited into court, rather than incarcerate, over 43,000 misdemeanor arrests in 1985. Early or accelerated releases have been in operation in Los Angeles County for years; our Work Release program has grown to 700 weekly and is restricted only by the type of inmate we house. We have worked and continue to work diligently with County Probation on their Work Furlough program.

Currently, there is a need for 10,400 high-security beds in the Los Angeles jail system to house the inmates I have identified above. We only have 7,210 rated beds of this type. Prior bond funds are dedicated to the construction of a 2,100-bed high-security facility. This will still leave the county approximately 1,100 high-security beds short. New bond money is desperately needed not only to construct housing for this group of violent and dangerous criminals but also to meet total system needs. By 1990, we project that more than 26,000 inmates will be housed in our jail system and we will only have 15,236 rated beds at that time.

Since “most Californians believe that those who commit serious offenses should go to jail” and because our jails are currently overcrowded with these serious offenders, I urge a Yes vote on Proposition 52.

SHERMAN BLOCK

Sheriff

Los Angeles County


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