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L.A. Now Live: Can high-tech screening ease crowded jails?

August 31, 2012 |  7:59 am

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is hoping a 137-question survey will help them identify inmates who seem least likely to re-offend and allow them to identify candidates for early release -- easing the burden on the overcrowded jail system.

Times county government reporter Jason Song will join L.A. Now Live at 9 a.m. to discuss the new high-tech screening program.

The questionnaire delves into personal histories: Were your parents divorced or separated? Have you or your friends ever used drugs? Have you ever belonged to a gang? The questions also probe inmates' personalities and emotional makeup, including their ability to manage anger: "Some people see me as a violent person. Do you 'strongly disagree,' 'disagree,' 'not sure,' 'agree,' 'strongly agree?' "

The department has already surveyed about 3,400 inmates, and the screening program, which sifts through a matrix of "psychometric" data, placed about 45% in low-risk categories, meaning that they could be eligible to serve their sentences outside of jail with electronic monitoring.

The high-tech screening approach marks a sharp departure from the way jailers have historically decided which inmates should be released early. The computers, officials say, add a scientific security blanket of sorts to a process that now relies mostly on simple guidelines with a dose of gut instinct.