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L.A. County inmates may be moved to Kern County to ease crowding

July 10, 2012 |  8:38 am

Scrambling to find solutions to a swelling jail population, Los Angeles County officials say they're looking as far as the Central Valley for places to house an influx of prisoners.

The county's jail system has swelled to about 18,600 inmates after the state's "realignment program" began shifting more than 5,000 inmates who would have been held in state prison to county jails last fall.

L.A. County sheriff's officials project that the nation's largest jail system will run out of space by Christmas.

The department is in discussions with two Kern County cities to use their empty jails to house up to 1,000 low-level offenders and is considering talks with two other cities.

Some officials also have floated the idea of the county taking over fire camps across California that are operated by the state and placing additional inmates in them. It's unclear, however, if the county has enough funding to do so.

These moves are likely to be the first in a series of efforts to deal with the increased jail population brought on by realignment, the controversial state law designed to address a U.S. Supreme Court order to improve conditions in California's prisons.

The shift has increased jail populations in counties across the state, with some resorting to early release to avoid overcrowding.

In an interview Monday, Assistant Sheriff Cecil W. Rhambo Jr. said the department is considering several other strategies for dealing with the rising inmate population, including releasing more women with electronic monitoring systems.

The Sheriff's Department also has been discussing with court officials, prosecutors and defense attorneys the idea of speeding up the resolution of some lower-level criminal cases.

Most inmates in the jails are awaiting trial. Rhambo said the department is considering using electronic monitoring rather than jail detention for some defendants accused of drug crimes and prostitution.

Rhambo said he was hopeful the deals with Kern County cities would be finalized by the fall.

When asked by The Times last year about the prospect of sending inmates to jails outside the county, sheriff's officials strongly downplayed the idea, saying it would only occur under extreme circumstances.


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Photo: An undated photo from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows inmates in crowded conditions at the state prison in Lancaster. Credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.