Overpopulation at Los Angeles County Jails

Based on current projections, Los Angeles County jail may be out of space for new inmates by as soon as next month.  Higher than expected booking of state prisoners is one of the major causes.  Los Angeles County booked more than 900 state prisoners versus the expected number of 600 as a result of transfers from state prison.  Due to a United States Supreme Court decision that went into effect not long ago, requires the state of California to reduce its prison population by 30,000 due to overcrowding.

In some counties the counts are even higher.  Orange County jails received more than double the amount of prison transfers. Kern County released 50 parole violators last month because of an over capacity jail system.  This combined with fact that 70% of Los Angeles County jail inmates are awaiting trial because they were unable to make bail.  Judges do have certain amount of discretion based on the facts and nature of the charges in the amount of bail that is set for a defendant.  The side effect of the trend to set higher bail amounts together with a congested court system means that more defendants will spend time behind bars at the taxpayers expense before their trial date.

LA County Jail officials are scrambling to come up with alternatives to incarceration.  Diversion to drug treatment programs and GPS electronic monitoring are the top of Sheriff Lee Bacas list of options currently being explored for LA County. In addition with the current strains and cut backs on state funding for criminal justice systems in California, opening more beds or building more prisons and jails is highly unlikely in light of the economic downturn.  Of course those defendants that are out of work, in foreclosure or returning veterans without a stable financial base are more likely to have problems making bail.  Considering the current situation in Los Angeles, the court system needs to rethink its use of bail and the role it plays to both protect and serve the needs of taxpayers in the state of California.