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County to Consider $1.4-Billion Plan to Rebuild Men's Central Jail

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, October 10, 2011, at 07:53PM
Men's Central Jail Corey Bridwell/KPCC

First opened in 1963, Men's Central Jail currently houses approximately 5,000 inmates.

The largest jail in the United States would be torn down and replaced under a $1.4-billion plan that goes to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Men's Central Jail, which opened in 1963 and currently houses roughly 5,000 inmates, has been plagued by issues stemming from overcrowding and antiquated design. The facility's long corridors make inmate movements and monitoring difficult.

In 2010, ACLU of Southern California released a report chronicling a 30-year history of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. "Men’s Central Jail is a modern-day medieval dungeon, a dank, windowless place where prisoners live in fear of retaliation and abuse apparently goes unchecked," said Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney for the organization.

The replacement plan calls for a phased tear-down of the existing structure during construction of a new facility with three ten-story towers that would have 5,040 total beds. An additional 1,156 beds for medium-to-low security female inmates would be constructed at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.

$1.165 billion of the project cost would come via long-term bonds, which would eventually cost the County $2.66 billion in debt service.

Still, the County CEO says that would represent a savings over what it would cost to continue to operate the current facility.

Much of that savings would be due to the new structure's design. The facility would be built around 48-cell pods that contain their own food services and recreation facilities, reducing the need for inmate movements, providing better visibility into cells and exterior access to maintenance work such as electrical and plumbing. The reduced staffing levels needed would save $1.1 billion over the 30-year life of the bonds.

Another $345 million in savings would come from the reduced energy, water and maintenance costs that a new, green building would bring.

If the County Supervisors approve the project, construction at the Men's Central Jail site could start in 2014. Demolition of the Central Arraignment Court and the original Men's Central facility would occur late that year, and the new towers could be complete by late 2017. The facility's 1970's addition would be last to be torn down, standing until 2019.

L.A. County CEO Report on Jail Replacement Plan

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