Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is talking to court officials to determine whether reducing bail for nonviolent offenders would cut jail overcrowding, says the Los Angeles Times. The talks began after he threatened to close the Men’s Central Jail if hit with steep budget cuts. The sheriff does not have the power to change the bail schedule, which would require the support of judges as well as prosecutors and public defenders. If more low-level offenders could afford bail, fewer would be incarcerated at the jails, allowing the sheriff to house violent offenders longer. Baca is considering closing one or perhaps two jails to cope with expected budget cuts. Such closures would reduce the overall jail capacity by thousands, resulting in more early releases of offenders, he said.
The sheriff said that closing the aging downtown Los Angeles jail, which houses 6,700 of the county’s 18,000 jail inmates, might be necessary to bridge what he estimates will be a $72-million budget gap. County supervisors contend his threats are false. “If the sheriff can’t find the savings, we’re willing to help him,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, adding that the department’s administration budget has increased by 151% over the last 10 years and that the patrol budget has increased by 115% over the same period. “The amount of overtime the sheriff spends is a scandal,” Yaroslavsky said.