Mar 21 2013
With the inmate population steadily increasing, Sheriff Lee Baca will ask the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to study replacing the dilapidated and violence-plagued Men’s Central Jail with a $932.8-million high-tech facility, and consider relying more on electronic monitoring devices and other alternatives to incarceration.
The proposal at this stage is to hire a contractor to prepare a conceptual design and environmental impact review.
In a letter to the board, Baca and county chief executive officer William Fujioka said it was “critical” to begin the process of replacing the aging MCJ with a more efficient facility that would hold high-security and medical inmates.
The proposed new jail would be built on the site of the half-century-old MCJ in downtown Los Angeles. It is envisioned to house up to 3,500 high-security and medical inmates in two towers.
Currently, MCJ has rows of jail cells that guards cannot monitor effectively. The replacement facility would have “pods” shaped like an octagon with jail cells on each side and guards positioned in the center; as well as video visitation capability.
Baca and Fujioka said the county could enter into architectural/engineering scoping services contract by fall next year, and have the new jail ready for occupancy by the fiscal year 2019-2020.
They estimated about $780 million of the cost of the replacement jail could be financed
by issuing long-term bonds. The department would cover the difference once it finishes debt payments on other long-term bonds maturing in 2018-2019.
Their previous concept for a replacement jail did not get very far with the board. That proposal cost $1.2 billion for three towers that could hold 3,300 male inmates and 860 female inmates.
MCJ held between 4,000 and 5,000 inmates for years until Baca scaled back those numbers after the American Civil Liberties Union exposed rampant abuse at the hands of deputies.
“This money is needed because everybody agrees that Men’s Central Jail is an antiquated facility and the upgrades are necessary for the safety and security not only of the inmates but our personnel “” the deputy sheriffs, the custody assistants, custody staff,” Baca’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said.
“This is another step in rehabilitating the physical jail system in LA county,” he added.
But Mary Sutton, a spokesperson for Californians United for a Responsible for a Responsible Budget, opposed building any new jails.
“We’re against any and all jail expansion in LA county because we believe incarceration rates are out of control,” she said. “Dollars should instead be put into the community take care of people’s needs through social services, rehabilitation, housing, job training. ”
“These are much more effective ways to invest in the community and create real and long-lasting public safety, as opposed to dumping poor people, mentally ill people, and people of color in jail,” Sutton added.