Group opposes Los Angeles, San Bernardino counties’ bids for more money for more jails

By Beatriz Valenzuela, Press-Telegram
Los Angeles Daily News

On the heels of a scathing report card that gave failing grades to both Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties for their handling of the state’s prison realignment program, an advocacy group and concerned residents caravaned to Sacramento Wednesday to voice opposition to the counties seeking grant money to build what the group calls “cages for our children.”

“The L.A. sheriff’s department has built the biggest jail system in the country and has shown itself to be incapable of running it,” said Diana Zuñiga of Californians United for a Responsible Budget in a statement. “We need to downsize, not expand, and shift funds away from the sheriff and towards programs that help our neediest neighbors.”

All but eight of the state’s 50 counties have plans to build new jails. Of those, 36 have applied for millions of dollars through new state legislation that allows the sale of bonds to pay for $500 million in construction costs.

“The issues that we have is the alternatives are not being expanded,” Zuñiga said in an interview.

Los Angeles County has applied for the money to build 236 “re-entry beds” as well as a women’s facility.

Since the implementation of the prison realignment program under Assembly Bill 109, several counties have reported an increase in their jail population.

Under the program, the responsibility of monitoring and housing lower-level offenders was shifted from the state to the counties as a way to satisfy a three-judge panel’s ruling that overcrowded conditions in state prisons led to inadequate health care for inmates.

Most of the counties that received failing grades on their implementation of AB 109 have not offered appropriate alternatives to jail; instead they have chosen to build more housing facilities, said Zuñiga.

San Bernardino County has applied for funds to pay for upgrades to Glen Helen Rehabilitation center, where last year there were two escapes from the facility.

County jails were not set up to meet the needs of people incarcerated for periods longer than five years, said San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Undersheriff Robert Fonzi.

Contact Beatriz E. Valenzuela at 562-499-1466.

Melissa Pinon-Whitt contributed to this report.