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L.A. Sheriff Backs Off Jail Closures, Suggests Lower Bail

By Sandy Sand     Feb 26, 2009 in Politics
Embattled Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca backed off his premature announcement that he will be closing two L.A. jails due to budget shortfalls, and is now suggesting reducing bail for non-violent offenders.
Baca was harshly criticized by county officials for jumping the gun and threatening jail closures when budget discussions over a $72 million gap in his department’s budget have not even begun yet.
Now he’s come with a new cost-cutting, over-crowding plan: Lower bail for non-violent offenders to keep them out of jail while awaiting trial, which would allow for incarcerating those who have serious filed against them for longer.
There’s just one little problem with that.
According to Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Baca, the sheriff was going over the current bail schedule for nonviolent offenders, when he came up with the idea, but the sheriff does not have the power to change the bail schedule, which would require the support of judges as well as prosecutors and public defenders.
The sheriff’s budges doesn’t come up for review until the first week in March, but the battle lines have already been drawn, with some county supervisors noting that Baca's budget has grown for years, and they expressed doubt that jail closures would be his only recourse in reducing expenses.
"If the sheriff can't find the savings, we're willing to help him," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, adding that the department's administration budget has increased by 151% over the last 10 years and that the patrol budget has increased by 115% over the same period.
"The amount of overtime the sheriff spends is a scandal," Yaroslavsky said.
A recent report by the county showed that more than one-third of the department’s personnel are paid at overtime rates.
Even the most staunch and loyal supporters of Baca on the board of supervisors, believe that the Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A. or any jail will have to be closed.
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