by Christopher Zoukis
The Los Angeles County Jail’s early release program began in the late 1980s as a result of an adverse finding by a federal judge that the jail’s overcrowding amounted to an 8th Amendment violation for cruel and unusual punishment. Since that time, several early release programs have been attempted, but many have failed. The latest early release program to run into disgrace concerns home detention.
In 2007, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca obtained special authorization from the state legislature to enact an early release home detention program. The program was to be utilized for nonviolent, low-level, misdemeanor offenders and applied to a projected 2,000 jail prisoners at any one time. The projected cost savings were significant considering that it cost the county around $20 per day to house a prisoner in home confinement compared to $118 per day at the jail. Plus, such costs could be transferred from the county to the home detention program participant. Unfortunately, the program has been increasingly underutilized. Between February 2009 and November 2010, approximately 1,200 jail prisoners were accepted into the program. As of March 2010, only 225 jail prisoners were involved in the program, and as of late October 2013, there were only 77 participants.
Separate from underuse of the program, came another fatal flaw: the home detention program lacked accountability. Soon jail prisoners determined that it was more advantageous to stay in the jail for a longer stint and be released without any supervision, than to accept placement into the program and have to complete their entire sentence in home detention. After all, jail prisoners who would be accepted into the home detention program are now released after serving as little as 20% of their sentences. Hence, jail prisoners started to assert that they were homeless instead of accepting program placement.
As L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Spokesman Steve Whitmore said, “People were gaming the system.” As such, the large-scale program was discontinued in late 2010. With the home detention program now in shambles, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is seeking a new, proven method of reducing overcrowding. One such program being considered is the pretrial release of misdemeanor defendants, who would be electronically monitored pending adjudication of criminal charges.
(Originally published by Prison Legal News)