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Sheriff Lee Baca studying possible bail reduction to deal with budget cuts

February 24, 2009 |  2:48 pm


Sheriff Lee Baca is in talks with court officials to determine whether reducing bail for nonviolent offenders would cut jail overcrowding at a time when he's considering closing down the Men's Central Jail.

Sheriff's Spokesman Steve Whitmore said Baca is examining the current bail schedule for nonviolent offenders and wants to discuss with judges the prospects for reducing some of types of bail. Baca does not have the power to change the bail schedule, which would require the support of judges as well as prosecutors and public defenders.

Whitmore said that if more offenders could afford bail, fewer of them would be incarcerated at the jails, allowing the sheriff to house violent offenders longer.

Baca said Monday that he is considering closing one or perhaps two jails to cope with expected budget cuts. Such closures would reduce the overall jail capacity, resulting in more early releases of offenders, Baca said.

Baca said closing the downtown Los Angeles jail, which would greatly reduce the capacity of the county jail system and lead to more early releases of inmates, might be necessary to bridge what he estimates will be a $72-million gap in his budget.

But he was criticized today by some county officials.

County officials said they have requested that he draft preliminary plans to reduce his $2.5 billion budget by $62 million, and they appeared caught off guard by Baca's proposal to release inmates and could not immediately offer alternative plans to find the needed savings.

Some supervisors suggested areas ripe for trimming. "If the sheriff can't find the savings, we're willing to help him," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, noting that the department's administration budget has increased by 151% over the last 10 years and the patrol budget has increased by 115% over the same period.

"The amount of overtime the sheriff spends is a scandal," Yaroslavsky added. "We'll be releasing numbers on that in the coming days." 

Even the sheriff's staunchest political allies on the board said he did not have to close Men's Central Jail.

"Supervisor [Michael] Antonovich believes the savings can be achieved through administrative cuts," spokesman Tony Bell said.

-- Richard Winton and Garrett Therolf

Photo: Los Angeles Times