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November 12, 2011

"L.A. County jails may be out of room next month" (which could really help Conrad Murray)

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece from the Los Angeles Times, which gets started this way:

Los Angeles County's jails could run out of space as early as next month because of an influx of state prisoners, prompting officials to consider releasing potentially thousands of inmates awaiting trial.

The state's new prison law, which establishes a practice known as realignment, is expected to send as many as 8,000 offenders who would normally go to state prisons into the L.A. County Jail system in the next year.

Currently, defendants awaiting trial account for 70% of the jail population, but Sheriff Lee Baca said that might need to drop to 50%.  The department is studying a major expansion of its electronic monitoring and home detention programs to keep track of inmates who are released.

Baca said the department is also developing a new risk-assessment system designed to better identify which inmates are the best candidates to leave the jails.  Additionally, the department is looking at ways to channel more offenders into education and substance abuse programs rather than jail.

An internal report produced by the L.A. County district attorney's office and obtained by The Times estimated that the county jails would be full by the end of the year.  The Sheriff's Department has the funding to open only an additional 1,800 beds, far below the number needed to accommodate the tide of state prisoners coming its way, the report said.

The realignment plan, developed to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision on overcrowding in the state prison system, has generated dire warnings from local police and prosecutors who fear the shift will place more offenders on the streets and increase crime. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has predicted that the city could see a 3% increase in crime because of realignment.

There is special concern about releasing more defendants before trial, with prosecutors fearing that some might not show up in court.  Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said he also worries that inmates on electronic monitors could intimidate witnesses or take other actions to disrupt their trials.

Cooley used the conviction of Michael Jackson's personal physician for involuntary manslaughter to highlight the risks realignment brings.  Conrad Murray faces up to four years in prison.  But under the realignment law, he would spend that sentence in a county jail rather than a state prison.  That's because under the law, involuntary manslaughter as well as crimes such as drug offenses and identity theft no longer require state prison time.

Cooley said that if the County Jail system reaches capacity, Murray could be a candidate for early release.  "There is going to be a tremendous number of people that should be in jail and will not be incarcerated," he said. "This is the kind of story that will play out over and over again."

Yikes, Conrad Murray might be back on the California streets sooner because of L.A. jail overcrowding?!?!  Oh my, goodness! Gracious land sakes alive!   Sound the alarms, get your kids inside right away, and be extra sure to lock-down all of your propofol!!  We all should start worrying that Murray could be a threat all by himself to cause the 3% increase in crime being predicted by the LA police chief.

Obviously, my tongue was planted firmly in my cheek when writing the prior paragraph.  Though there may be lots of reasons we might think it unjust if Conrad Murray ultimately ends up getting a significant sentencing windfall because of prison and jail overcrowding in California, I do not think many folks should be deeply worried about Murray (or other similar persons who get an early release from California incarceration) going on a post-release crime spree.  Of course, other persons who get early release in California because the jails have no more room may be much more of a threat to public safety, but crime increases may be as much the result of a local officials having a poor plan for who gets early release rather that the fact that Californians have been unwilling to spend a lot more money to construct a lot more prisons and jails. 

November 12, 2011 at 11:55 AM | Permalink


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I find the phrasing of the LA Times article misleading: "Los Angeles County's jails could run out of space as early as next month because of an influx of state prisoners." This phrasing makes it sound like the state is sending people currently in state prison to the county jails, and/or that the state has custody over these people and is just renting out the jail space. The next paragraph is a bit clearer -- "offenders who would normally go to to state prisons" -- but also misleading in a different way, because that word "normally" implies that realignment is a temporary deviation from some "normal" state of affairs, when in fact there's no a priori "normal" categorization of what is or isn't a state prison offense, and realignment isn't temporary but a permanent change in California sentencing law (or, anyway, as permanent as any law is, until the next legislative session) -- to use the cliche, "the new normal". Though convicted of state crimes, these aren't "state prisoners" -- the whole point of realignment is that they are now county charges. A better phrasing might have been, "offenders who would previously have gone to state prisons." Perhaps this seems nit-picky, but there seems to be a lot of confusion around realignment throughout California.

Posted by: Sara Mayeux | Nov 12, 2011 2:39:23 PM

I also find it amazing that the bulk of the jail capacity was already going to keeping pretrial detainees while they were already cycling people who are supposed to be serving actual sentences through as quickly as possible. That makes no sense. Pretrial detainees should be the first population cut, long before those who have actually been convicted get to walk with just a fraction of their term served.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 12, 2011 3:12:03 PM

The thing that gets me is what a entire farce the whole system is. It would be cheaper in the long run just to haul the guy in front of the judge, have the judge waggle his finger in the defendants face, say "shame shame shame" and let that be the end of it. Because as a pragmatic matter that's all that's happening anyway.

"Pretrial detainees should be the first population cut,"

If you put pretrial detainees what does it mean to arrest anyone. Put cuffs on the guys, put him in the squad car, haul him to the station, book him, and let him go. That's enough to put the fear of god in them, yea it is!

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 12, 2011 3:43:03 PM

The reasons the prison's are filled is because Steve Cooley the LA District Attorney and his second in charge Jackie Lacey have been felonizing every possible nonviolent crime they can. Then, he blames Jerry Brown. Steve Cooley has been in charge for 10 years and the reason we are in this mess!! No Jackie Lacey for Los Angeles District Attorney 2012!!

Posted by: jane | Nov 13, 2011 2:39:54 AM

have they looked into housing the overflow 2 blocks down Alameda at the federal metropolitan correctional center

Posted by: l | Nov 15, 2011 7:49:02 PM

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