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Part of Castaic jail may close

Sheriff Lee Baca threatens to shut down Pitchess Detention Center's North Facility

Posted: June 29, 2009 10:25 p.m.
Updated: June 30, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Deputies Gruppie, left, and Round walk through Pitchess Detention Center's North Facility on Monday afternoon. The medium security facility, which holds 1,600 inmates, may be closing in the near future if the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will not take back a $25 million budget cut.

 
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is set to deliver a final threat to county supervisors: Take back a $25 million budget cut today, or he may shut down part of Pitchess Detention Center tomorrow.

The move would close 1,600 beds in the Castaic detention center's North Facility, forcing officials to move its medium-security inmates to other overflowing county jails or release some of them.

"This is not a red herring, but he's prepared to do it," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore. "He does not want to do it, but he's prepared."

Baca first made the threat in a letter to the county Board of Supervisors last week, detailing the his plan to cut in response to a $25 million cut to the sheriff's department's $2.5 billion budget.

Baca will face questions from a skeptical Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich over the issue, said Tony Bell, the supervisor's spokesman.

Whitmore said the sheriff will offer solutions besides the jail closure when he appears before the Board of Supervisors today.

"I think you will find tomorrow a discussion (about) what needs to be done if you give me these kinds of budget cuts," Whitmore said.

"He's going to explain and he's going to present his options, and one of them is the shutting of the North Facility in Pitchess."

Baca has resorted to similar measures before. In 2002, he began releasing inmates early. Some served less than 10 percent of their sentences.

Today, most inmates serve at least 70 percent of their sentences. But Baca threatened the loss of the 1,600-bed facility could force more early releases, worsen overcrowding and lead to increased violence and use of force within the jails.

One of the sheriff's proposed solutions is to repay the budget cut with utility user tax revenue, Whitmore said.

Pitchess Detention Center Commander Don Rodriguez said Monday he has received word of the potential closure of one of his four jails.

The North Facility is the newest jail in the complex, built in 1987.

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