County Falling Further Behind on Courts, Jails

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County’s court and jail systems are so overburdened that even substantial construction programs in part financed by newly approved bonds will not keep pace with increasing caseload backlogs and inmate overcrowding, officials said Monday.

By 1990, the county will be 80 courtrooms, more than 8,000 adult jail cells and nearly 900 juvenile treatment beds shy of projected needs, according to Chief Administrative Officer James C. Hankla. And meeting those jail and courthouse needs could cost taxpayers more than $1 billion, a Hankla aide said.

To help absorb the overflow, Hankla is recommending that the Board of Supervisors immediately approve construction of eight new projects, including two dependency courts partially financed by $12.4 million in private funds at MacLaren Children’s Center.

Hankla also is asking for authority to push for various court-related administrative reforms--such as an expansion of the experimental night court sessions--to further reduce bulging caseloads.


Hankla’s grim forecast comes three weeks after California voters approved by a 2-1 margin Proposition 52, a bond measure that could eventually provide $161.4 million for new Los Angeles County jail facilities. The county also is expected to receive a portion of $20 million earmarked statewide for juvenile detention facilities.

Proposition 52 was viewed as a means to reduce the chronic overcrowding that touched off a recently settled federal lawsuit that called county jail conditions inhumane. To settle the case, the county agreed to reduce the Central Jail’s inmate population by November.

Hankla’s report showed that despite Proposition 52 and the county efforts to head off a justice system crisis, there will still be shortages of space in less than five years.

Some examples:


--Courtrooms. The county currently has about 500 Superior and Municipal courtrooms. With the construction or renovation of about 60 more, Hankla still projects a shortage of 80 courtrooms by the 1990-91 fiscal year.

Building new courthouses to meet the expected demand could cost more than $240 million while another $42 million would be needed to hire new judges and their supporting staffs, Hankla said.

Under a courthouse construction plan adopted in 1981, two facilities--in San Fernando and Hollywood--have been completed while four others, in Van Nuys, Bellflower, East Los Angeles and Downey, are scheduled for completion in 1988.

Other courtroom expansions, in Reseda, Pasadena, Torrance, North Hollywood and West Los Angeles, are envisioned in the construction plan, but how they would be financed is not yet known. Hankla is recommending that the Pasadena and Torrance courts be put on indefinite hold until a source of funds is identified.


--Adult detention facilities. By 1990, county officials project, they will need 26,000 beds for adult inmates housed at various jail facilities. Currently, the county’s jail facilities hold a daily average of 18,071 inmates although they were built for only 11,800 prisoners. Completion of a 2,100-bed honor ranch in 1989 and a 512-bed facility at Mira Loma later this year could help reduce the overcrowded situation somewhat, Hankla said.

Two Other Facilities

If two other facilities are built, including a 1,000-bed jail in South-Central Los Angeles and a second regional jail at an undetermined site, the overcrowding could be eased even more.

But Hankla aide Bob Thompson said the county would still need about 8,000 beds to fill the projected needs. At about $10,000 per bed, the cost could climb to more than $800,000, Hankla aide John Shirey said.


--Juvenile detention facilities. More than 2,640 juvenile facility beds may be needed by 1990, which is about 900 more than are currently available or have been authorized.

County officials said that bed shortage might be reduced by about one-fourth if two juvenile detention camps costing about $12 million receive financing under Proposition 52.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled today to review eight proposed projects that would address both the court and jail crunch. These include two dependency courts at MacLaren Children’s Center in West Covina where the placement of neglected or abused children would be determined. Such cases are now handled in the downtown Criminal Courts Building.

Other Recommendations


Also recommended are a 22-court juvenile court, a 12-court North Hollywood courthouse; a nine-court West Los Angeles courthouse and adult or juvenile detention facilities that would add about 3,240 beds.

To help raise more funds for new jail and court facilities as well as to reduce the effect of the caseloads, Hankla also recommended replacing court commissioners with judges because judges have broader authority; expanding use of existing courtrooms for night and split sessions where judges share the same chambers at different times and increasing court filing fees and penalties.

The courts have been conducting a limited night court experiment since January and have pronounced the idea a success, Hankla said.