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Baca threatens to close jails

Sheriff’s plan to release inmates to fill $71-million budget gap draws criticism

Posted: February 25, 2009 12:59 a.m.
Updated: February 25, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca's suggestion to close two county jails, including Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic, and release inmates to close a $71-million budget gap drew criticism from one supervisor today.

"The sheriff is premature in his assessment of the need to close anything," said Tony Bell, spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley.

Baca said he was looking at cutting 600 positions and closing two of the county's 10 jails - the old central jail, which houses about 2,300 inmates, and part of Pitchess, which houses about 1,500 inmates.

The sheriff's department would transfer violent offenders to other facilities and nonviolent offenders awaiting trial would be the first inmates released, Baca said.

"There's no way around me cutting $71 million out of the budget that won't affect having to close a jail or two," Baca said. "I have to start cutting."

"The sheriff's could look into cost cutting in other parts of the department," Bell said. He wouldn't detail a plan for cost-cutting in the sheriff's department.

"It's (Baca's) department. He needs to find the cuts," Bell said.

Baca was forced to take similar actions during an unforeseen downturn from 2002 to 2005, when his department grappled with $180 million in cuts.

The department provides law enforcement for 40 cities, including Santa Clarita, dozens of unincorporated communities including those in the Santa Clarita Valley, and four million residents.

The department also runs the county's jail system, which has a population capped at 20,000 and includes 700 people accused of murder awaiting trial.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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