Populations within L.A. County Prisons
According to Austin et al., (April 2012) in an evaluation study conducted on behalf of the JFA Institute, whilst crime rates in the County have declined since 2000, along with arrests for felonies, arrest for misdemeanors have not, nonetheless resulting in a reduction in the number of bookings into the prison since 2000. The figure then was 162,406, which had fallen to 142,862 by 2011. Corresponding to that decline in bookings, the prison population has fallen from a 1990 figure of 22,000 to less than 15,000 by late 2011. The same study reported that in terms of legal status, the prison inmates can be categorized into three separate populations: those awaiting trial (45 percent); those sentenced but with a charge pending (18 percent); and those sentenced (37 percent).
Overall, almost 4 out of 5 of prisoners have either been charged or sentenced for a crime in the felony category, and although about half those awaiting trial have been charged with a crime in either the violent or sex categories, only about a quarter of the sentenced population were convicted of those types of crimes.
Inmates should be housed within the prison system according to the perceived level of required security (low, medium or high). As of 2011, the custody levels percentages were: low – 15 percent; medium – 70 percent, high (maximum) – 14 percent. Dependent on the specific perceived level of security/risk, inmates have different accommodation requirements. For example those imprisoned for particularly violent crimes should be kept in isolation for the protection of other inmates, whereas prisoners incarcerated for (e.g.) sex crimes against minors should also be kept in solitary confinement for their own protection. Medium and low security risk prisoners should ideally be confined no more than two per cell, unless specific history or circumstances dictates otherwise. Prisoners awaiting trial are in theory allowed extra amenities, including opportunity to pay for extra comforts.
However, taking the Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail as an example, where up to 5,000 inmates classified as high security, both sentenced and awaiting trial are housed, according to a “2010 Interim Report on Conditions Inside Los Angeles County Jail” by Tiedeman, Ballon, Bird and Eliasberg, the reality is that conditions inside that prison are far from satisfactory. There is evidence of endemic overcrowding, widespread excessive physical force used against prisoners, and dormitories housing up to 160 men. Clearly these conditions are not only unsatisfactory, they are intolerable. This is generally agreed, including by Sheriff Baca, who has apparently confirmed that this prison should be closed and replaced within two years.
According to an article by the Sigal Law Group, the Twin Towers Correctional Facility is better, housing 4,000-plus inmates on floors assigned to the various inmate populations, in accordance with types of crime, prior criminal history, medical needs, etc. Basically, staff try to assign each prisoner to where they will be safest (or vice versa – i.e. where others will be safest from them). Those criteria also include racial origins. Those who can demonstrate or claim good behavior, such as those imprisoned while awaiting trial, can endeavour to gain admission to the trustee program available there, which gives those prisoners extra privileges and a greater degree of freedom.
It has been suggested (Petersila, Turner & Fain, 2001) that for those accused of less violent crimes, especially those awaiting trial, other options than prison should be considered. These might include diverting detainees to other community-based establishments, house arrest, close supervision and electronic monitoring. Such measures could cut costs and reduce prison overcrowding and consequent violence within the LA County prison system.
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