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At Twin Towers, Paper Helps Keep the Peace

TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than $300 million was spent to build the state-of-the-art Twin Towers Jail, yet it has come to this: White butcher paper patched to the windows with yellow masking tape is being used to keep the peace in the jail’s Inmate Reception Center.

It turns out that as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department began processing women through the new jail last week, male and female inmates took the opportunity to flash each other--causing a carnival-like atmosphere that prompted deputies to place the makeshift screens on holding cells.

Several other minor glitches--mostly involving paperwork problems--have also emerged at Twin Towers, which is being phased in to house women as the Sheriff’s Department prepares to shut down the aging Sybil Brand Institute.

Although the impromptu jailhouse peep show may be sparking romances (several inmates were seen chatting on a nearby street corner after they were released from jail), it has caused plenty of headaches for sheriff’s officials trying to make stopgap fixes at the Reception Center, where prisoners are booked into the jail system and released at the end of their stay. Over the course of the month, the 2,000 prisoners housed at Sybil Brand will be moved to Twin Towers, marking the first time in 15 years that women have been kept in the same county facility as men.

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“Twin Towers was never designed for both males and females,” said sheriff’s Custody Cmdr. Daniel Burt. “It is somewhat ironic that we would spend so many millions of dollars and we have to modify it by putting up butcher paper.”

Female prisoners are expected to be incarcerated in the new facility for at least the next three years, giving the county an opportunity to undertake a massive renovation project at Sybil Brand in East Los Angeles.

Officials estimate that it will cost between $15 million and $30 million to fix up the women’s jail, money that has yet to be appropriated by the County Board of Supervisors.

Once the women’s facility is upgraded, the Sheriff’s Department plans to transfer men into Tower Two to make way for renovations at other aging jails in the county. Current overcrowding in the 20,000-inmate jail system has led to the early release of thousands of convicted inmates, most serving no more than 25% of their court-ordered sentences, and thousands being allowed out on work release.

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“I think the fact of the matter is very clear,” said sheriff’s Capt. Claude Farris, who is in charge of Twin Towers and Sybil Brand. “We need to have more jail beds in Los Angeles County. Period. We need to take the opportunities to do what we can.”

Built in the early 1960s, the women’s jail--named after the Los Angeles women’s advocate who long fought for construction of the facility--suffers from a variety of woes. The plumbing is deteriorating, the air-conditioning is faulty, and some of the doors need fixing. But perhaps the most troublesome problem at the jail is that a section of the nearby hillside is collapsing.

“The slippage on the hillside is not affecting the actual structure, but we’re looking at stabilization,” said Custody Chief Barry King.

Among those complaining loudest about the conditions at Sybil Brand has been Whitewater figure Susan McDougal, who is currently being held at the facility pending trial on embezzlement charges.

Starting last week, more than 700 women have been processed through the Twin Towers Inmate Reception Center. On June 21, the bulk of the 2,000 female inmates will be moved there from Sybil Brand.

The $373-million Twin Towers, located on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles, was completed in October 1995. But the 4,100-bed lockup remained closed until last January, because the sheriff said he could not come up with the $100 million a year needed to operate the jail. There are now more than 1,000 men in Tower One of the facility.

Because of a complicated plan that included renting out space at other jails to the State Corrections Department and the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service, the department was able to open the facility.

So far, there have been few problems, staffers say, although last week’s flashing incidents did catch deputies off guard.

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Authorities hope to eventually frost the windows in the women’s holding cells. But for now, Burt said, the butcher paper will have to do.

He said: “Just when you think the architects have designed everything you need. . . .”


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