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L.A. County computer screening could reduce inmate population

LA County jail exterior

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is turning to a new computer software intended to help officials determine which inmates seem least likely to commit new crimes in an effort to reduce the jail population.

Dubbed COMPAS—an acronym for Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions —the screening program uses proprietary software developed by Northpointe Inc., a Colorado-based criminal justice and research consultant. The sheriff's department has signed an initial $75,000 contract to use the program.

The same system is being used in Broward County, Fla., where it helped trim the inmate population so dramatically that officials were able to close one of five jails and save taxpayers money.

LIVE DISCUSSION AT 9 A.M.: Can high-tech screening ease crowded jails?

Reducing the inmate population is crucial because jails are filling up, mostly due to the state's prison realignment program that is shifting responsibility for more criminals to local lockups. Los Angeles County could begin releasing more low-risk inmates—perhaps thousands—to house arrest in the coming months.

About 100 Los Angeles County inmates now participate in a house arrest program for low-grade offenders who are willing to wear electronic monitors. Sheriff's officials say the new software could help them shift hundreds, even thousands more to various forms of house arrest and slash the jails' roughly 19,000-inmate population.

Before the software can be deployed, however, sheriff's officials hope to convince the county's elected Board of Supervisors that the change can be made without creating new threats to public safety.

"I can almost guarantee that if we take the proper precautions that public safety will not be compromised," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Correctional Services Division Chief Alexander Yim, who oversees inmate-release programs for the nation's largest jail system.


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Photo: Reducing the inmate population in Los Angeles County is crucial because jails, including Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic, are filling up. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times.

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