According to detailed studies by the Prison Policy Initiative and the American Psychological Association, the United States confines more people per capita than any other equivalent industrialized, democratic country. According to these reports, harsh sentencing laws and a dramatic increase in crime between the late 1960s and the early 1980s are chiefly responsible for the high rate of incarceration. Although this trend has slowed in the last couple of decades, many states still have a high jail population.
Chief among them is the Los Angeles County Jail System, which is by far the largest jail system in the United States. The CNN, and later the Los Angeles Almanac, used detailed infographics to describe the magnitude of the jail system. According to the figures, at about 17,000 inmates per day, the jail processes nearly double the number of individuals in the New York Jail system. To put this into perspective, the population of inmates is 30% more than on-campus residents at the University of Southern California, which is less than 20 miles away.
So how big is the Los Angeles County Jail? It is nearly double the land area of Delaware. Furthermore, the jail facilities and infrastructure cover over 4000 square miles across Southern California. The jail facilities comprise:
- The Inmate Reception Center, which is the processing center;
- Men’s Central Jail;
- Twin Towers Correctional Facility;
- Pitchess Detention Center (East, North, and South);
- North County Correctional Facility); and
- Century Regional Detention Facility (women’s jail).
The Sherrif’s Department maintains a public database of inmates currently housed in these facilities.
The county keeps the largest jail in the country running with over $ 890 million annually. That is nearly one-quarter of the Sheriff Department’s budget, which has declined due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.
However, before the budget cuts, the Los Angeles County jails face several challenges. For one, the jails are grossly overpopulated and understaffed. There is approximately one (1) jail staff per 7 – 14 inmates. More than half (53%) of inmates at the jails are awaiting trial or sentencing. The average length of stay is nearly 60 days and there is a 37% chance that a new arrestee will be incarcerated pending trial. While the population at these jails is primarily made up of non-violent offenders, about 37% of inmates are violent offenders with crimes ranging from aggravated assault to manslaughter. Also, about 9 in 10 inmates are affiliated with various street gangs.
Inmates’ life is the Los Angeles County Jails is not exactly great either. According to the American Psychology Association, there is an increase in mental health issues among inmates across the county. About 10 – 25% of inmates in US jails have mental health challenges, but the Los Angeles County Jail is distinctly worse. With over 35% of inmates struggling with some form of mental health problem, the jail system has been tagged as the largest mental health institution in the country. Furthermore, inmates only have an average of 3 hours of physical activity outside their cells per week.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Jail system has embarked on the reformation of the jails. The jail system now offers rehabilitation, educational, and vocational training through its education-based incarceration program. The county is also building a dedicated mental health prison to cater to the teeming population of inmates with mental health problems.
- Education-Based Incarceration (Los Angeles County Jail): http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/lasd/144122_E.B.I.withcover.pdf