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Higher Property Tax Collections Permit 25% Growth Of Los Angeles County Jail Capacity

by John E. Dannenberg

A six percent increase in property tax collections due to soaring real estate prices will add an estimated $150 million to Los Angeles County coffers in the coming year. County supervisors have allotted $68.5 million of that to reverse the cutbacks in the County Sheriff's budget for jails in the past three years that have resulted in 200,000 prisoners being let out early, the vast majority after serving only 10% of their sentences.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca plans to hire 500 new deputies and add 4,474 new beds to the jail system, a 25% increase in capacity. High-risk offenders will be moved into the Twin Towers downtown jail in an effort to counter the pattern of five detainee murders in the past two years at the hands of under-supervised fellow prisoners. An additional 63 deputies will be hired to perform safety checks" on prisoners. This was in response to the infamous security breach wherein a high-risk prisoner was able to freely roam the Central Jail to seek out and murder the witness who planned to testify against him. [See: PLN, April, 2005]
Beginning in 2002, Sheriff Baca was forced by budget cutbacks to reduce his jail population from 22,000 to 17,500. While only non-violent offenders were released early at first, as the money waned, car thieves, stalkers and drunk drivers were also let go. Because the time served (10%) was so short, deterrence was severely jeopardized, reported Baca. It was the most painful thing I ever had to do in my career as sheriff." Many offenders opted for jail time rather than rehabilitation programs. In December, 2004, the Board of Supervisors gave Baca enough money to reopen 1,778 beds, including a floor of the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic. This has already permitted time served to increase from 10% to 25%. With the new property tax money, Baca will be able to reopen all of the Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood and the remainder of Pitchess.
Other public safety expenditures planned from the property tax windfall include hiring 45 more prosecutors ($5 million) and enhancing Probation Department treatment for delinquent juveniles ($11.9 million).
But if your only crime" is to be sick and poor in Los Angeles County, your fate will not improve much. Only $40 million from the windfall will be used for the county public health care system, where the Department of Health Services expects to run a whopping $435 million deficit in the next two years.

Source: Los Angeles Times.

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