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Sheriff considers closing part of Men's Central Jail

March 21, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Part of Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles could be closed. L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca is considering downsizing a section that houses some of the county's most violent criminals, the jail's older wing at nearly 50 years old.

It's one of many possibilities, according to the sheriff's department. Sheriff's commanders have been meeting on a weekly basis with the sheriff to discuss issues of safety and security throughout the system. Men's Central Jail is the focal point.

Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles is 50 years old and in failing condition. L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. officials call it "antiquated."

Andy Palacios was released Wednesday and described the squalor there.

"Mold. A few times I have seen a little bit of rats. It's pretty surprising, the toilets, some of them are coming off. The sinks sometimes are broken," said Palacios.

"It's a fact and that is Men's Central Jail has outlived its usefulness," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department is in talks with command staff, seeking input for improving the facility or shutting down the oldest part of the jail. This as federal investigators review complaints by the ACLU of beatings, inmates killed in custody, excessive force and lax supervision.

The physical layout of the cells is a security factor, according to sheriff's officials. Like the nearby Twin Towers lockup, cells are arranged in rows, and illicit activity is easily hidden.

"For the most part you don't see the deputy and the deputy can't see you," said Palacios. "Sometimes there's a bit of nonsense going on as well."

In modern jails, the cells encircle a watch station.

"Where the deputy can see everything and into every cell from one secure location," said Whitmore.

One option: relocating Central's 1,800 inmates to the Century facility, where Paris Hilton served her time. That would mean finding another place for the women housed there. Talks continue.

"What happens with the jail system? Where can we move? Where do we have empty beds? Things like that. And as we discuss it, we discuss it with the Board of Supervisors," said Whitmore. "What is economically feasible?" pervisors, what is economically feasible?" said Whitmore.

Palacios only had to stay in for a week. "I don't recommend it to anybody," he said.

As plans are formulated, the sheriff's department says reforms are producing results: Officials say that in the last six months, the number of reported complaints of excessive force have gone down 50 percent.

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