Cost-Cutting Baca Says Inmates May Be Released

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, faced with cutting $25 million from his department's $2.5 billion budget, is threatening to release some nonviolent inmates and close one of five county-run jails, it was reported Saturday.

Baca wrote to the Board of Supervisors Friday, saying he planned to close the 1,600-bed North Facility at the Peter J. Pitchess Detention Center on Wednesday to save the $25 million, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Baca plans to release some inmates early and transfer others to already overcrowded jails, spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

Under Baca's plan, the 187 people who work the facility would be reassigned. He wrote that closing the jail would "potentially result in an increase in inmate violence and a resultant increase in the use of force."

Baca also proposed lowering bail for nonviolent offenders so that they can be released early.

Under pressure to reduce spending in mid-2002, Baca began early releases, saying he was unwilling to reduce the number of on-the-street deputies. Over the next four years, nearly 200,000 inmates were released early, the vast majority walking out after serving no more than 10 percent of their sentences.

Baca already has cut $31.6 million from his budget, eliminating 51 vacant positions, during current budget negotiations for the coming fiscal year.

In his letter, he complained that he was facing a $103 million budget shortfall fueled by overtime costs because of understaffing. He suggested county leaders pay for his $25-million cut with utility user tax revenue and provide him with an additional $5.6 million for security patrols at County-USC Medical Center's jail ward and $8.3 million for testing DNA evidence from thousands of backlogged cases.

The sheriff's department budget is expected to be high on the agenda at the Board of Supervisors' meeting on Tuesday. Whitmore told The Times that Baca had not made plans to be there.

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