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Castaic’s jail closure won’t cost jobs

Pitchess and Men’s Central deputies freed up for patrol in sheriff’s proposal to narrow budget gap

Posted: February 26, 2009 12:52 a.m.
Updated: February 26, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

Sheriff Lee Baca's proposal to close two county jails - including the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic - wouldn't result in any layoffs, a sheriff's spokesman said Wednesday.

"These are very preliminary discussion we are having," Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

"Sheriff Baca made his comments because he believes the public has the right to know what people are discussing."

Baca proposed Tuesday that he close Pitchess and the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles to narrow a $71 million budget gap.

The Sheriff's Department would transfer violent inmates to other facilities. Nonviolent offenders, such as those who convicted of petty theft and fraud, would be eligible for early release, Whitmore said.

Deputies who work at the jails would be freed up for patrol.

"The sheriff is looking at ways to make cuts without affecting public safety," Whitmore said. Attrition of 400 deputies would contribute to savings, Whitmore said.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich's office was quick to criticize Baca's proposal.

Tony Bell, spokesman for Antonovich, said the sheriff needs to make cuts in other parts of the department, but he declined to say where.

"It would be inappropriate for me to comment on where the sheriff needs to make budget cuts," Bell said.

Sending nonviolent offenders back on the street in the worst economy in more than 70 years concerns officials at the Sheriff's Department, Whitmore said.

Andy Pattantyus, vice chairman of the Valley Industrial Association, agreed.

If jails were closed and inmates turned out, the high unemployment rate would likely drive them to homelessness, back into gangs or to committing the same crimes, he said.

"When an employer has 24 applicants without a record and one with a record, who's he going to hire?" Pattantyus asked.

Baca's proposal doesn't call for the sale of either jail, Whitmore said. "We would shutter the buildings and cut off the utilities."
Whitmore stressed that any decision to close a county jail facility is months away.

If passed, the budget cuts won't take effect until July 1 and the public could weigh in during public hearings, Whitmore said.

"The last caveat in the whole discussion is will the stimulus offer some kind of relief? We don't know," Whitmore said.

The Sheriff's Department wants a portion of the $787 billion stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama, he said. "But we are not banking on it."

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