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Jail’s North Facility to stay open for now

Posted: June 30, 2009 9:19 p.m.
Updated: July 1, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

Pitchess Detention Center’s North Facility will remain open for now, according to a Sheriff’s Department spokesman.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors delayed an additional $25 million in budget cuts until September, while Sheriff Lee Baca and County CEO William Fujioka find a way to keep the unit open despite deep cuts to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department budget.

The $25 million in budget cuts come on top of $31 million of cuts already approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Baca said slashing any more than $31 million from the Sheriff’s Department budget would force him to close the medium-security unit of the 1,600-bed jailhouse.

“I don’t want to shut down a jail and you (the Board of Supervisors) don’t want to shut down a jail,” Baca said. “But we may have to do this.”

The delay in enacting the cuts doesn’t guarantee the North Facility will remain open past September and Baca is ready to close the detention center if the department can’t afford to run the jail, said Steve Whitmore, Sheriff’s Department spokesman.

“He (Baca) believes these are the only cuts he can make,” Whitmore said.

Baca said closing the jail, as opposed to reducing the number of patrols, is the best way to keep the public safe.

“People who commit crimes are not afraid of jail. They are afraid of cops,” Baca said. “I’m not going to take cops off the streets because keeping cops on the streets is the way you tell the people their safety comes first.”

Baca said each one of the inmates would be released back into the street at some point even if the facility remains open.

Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe voiced objections to Baca’s assertion on the jail’s role in public safety.

“While you think those people put in jail aren’t afraid of jail, I would argue that the people we serve view the jails as the first line of defense against crime,” he said.

Fifth District Supervisor Michael Antonovich made a motion to freeze the additional $25 million in cuts until September, said Tony Bell, Antonovich’s spokesman. The delay is to allow Baca and Fujioka time to find a way keep the jail open and curtail the Sheriff’s Department’s budget, he said.

“Now that the sheriff has made this proclamation, we need to re-examine the sheriff’s budget,” Bell said. “Tuesday’s action gives Baca three months reprieve from the curtailment.”

First District Supervisor Gloria Molina said any talk of closing a jail was a threat by Baca designed to scare the Board of Supervisors.

“You are trying to intimidate us by saying you’re eliminating a jail,” Molina said.

Baca said closing Pitchess is not a threat.

“They are not threats Supervisor. I am trying to work with the CEO (Fujioka).” Baca said. “To call that intimidation — I call that transparency.”  

Molina seconded Antonovich’s motion with an amendment to audit the Sheriff’s Department budget.

Baca said any such audit would support his claim that the Sheriff’s Department is underfunded.

“Any time this board goes into the fiscal working of any department, including mine, you see we are underfunded. When that obligation goes back to the board, where do we go from there?” he asked.
 

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