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Planners working on new women's jail

• 1,000-unit facility at Pitchess needed to curb overcrowding.

Posted: April 24, 2008 1:53 a.m.
Updated: June 25, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
Los Angeles County planners designing a 1,000-unit women's jail for the Pitchess Detention Center are excited about its innovative circular design and its promise to address overcrowding in jails across the county.

On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors passed a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that sets aside money specifically for new fire stations in Santa Clarita and new barracks at the detention center in Castaic.

The money - a significant portion of the $1.5 billion earmarked for the building of new infrastructure - and the new women's facility dovetail neatly into the county's strategy to address countywide jail overcrowding.

Overcrowding in county jails has led to increased security risks for both Sheriff's Department personnel and inmates, and also hampers rehabilitative services offered to inmates, according to a news release issued this week by the county's Chief Executive Officer William T. Fujioka.

According to statistics released by the Sheriff's Department, more than 70 percent of inmates in the county jail population are held just waiting to go to trial.

"This is indicative of an inefficient system that has contributed to overcrowding," Fujioka said in his statement.

The women's facility planned for the detention center will lessen overcrowding to some degree and, at the same time, ensure that rehabilitative programs actually reach the intended female inmates.

"We're very excited about this design," said Jan Takata, senior manager in the CEO's office. "From the outside, it won't look like a conventional jail.

There's no barbed wire."

The medium-security facility will see about a 100 beds arranged around the interior of a circular "pod," Takata explained.

In the center of the pod - at the hole of a doughnut, as it were - will be a cluster of rooms set up for rehabilitative programs, he said. Visitation rooms will also be situated in the center of the pod.

"We looked at a lot of different facilities," Takata told The Signal Wednesday. "This design addresses a number of issues including reduced operating costs and, of course, security."

The circular design requires fewer jail guards since guards have a wider line of sight at the center of the circle.

"It makes supervision so much easier. You can see anything from the center," Takata said, adding that the design cuts down on the need to move inmates from spot to spot, being centrally located.

"Instead of having (guards) walk down row by row, we can now secure a larger area with fewer staff," he said.

Sheriff's Department Chief Alex Yin, who heads the Custody Operations Division, calls the women's facility a "campus style setting with a lot of rehabilitative programs.

"It probably won't be completed until 2012," he said.

"We're still in negotiating with the board."

Overcrowding of jails across the county has led to a host of issues, according to Fujioka's announcement this week, including a "federally imposed population cap of 20,000 inmates and the Sheriff's Department adoption of early release policies."

To address overcrowding - specifically, to identify "inefficiencies that contribute to jail overcrowding" - the CEO's office is looking for a consulting firm "that has both a specific expertise in the area of jail population reduction and experience addressing this issue in large jurisdictions."

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