Sheriff, ACLU agree Men's Central Jail should close


A report was done by jail and prison population expert Dr. James Austin. He joined Sheriff Lee Baca and representatives from the ACLU to discuss his findings and pose options Tuesday.

Top law enforcement officers stood shoulder to shoulder with the ACLU on closing the Men's Central Jail. The jail houses nearly 5,000 inmates. It is old, hard to keep secure and a frequent scene of violence.

With the Sheriff Lee Baca's help, the ACLU completed a report that offers a roadmap for closing the jail.

"We can do this safely," said Dr. James Austin, JFA Institute. "We'll be able to save a great deal of money and we would be able reduce the size of the most troublesome jail, which is the Central Jail and even possibly close that facility within two years."

The report recommends starting a proposed pretrial supervision and re-entry program. That could reduce the jail population by 3,000. Other Central Jail inmates could go to unused fire camps. And the sheriff is looking at private facilities in Kern County.

"There are options on the table and again this report is a sober report, it's one that's a necessary report, and we are going to look at all aspects of it as a possibility, we're not ruling anything out," said Baca.

But does all that mean the sheriff is committed to closing the Central Jail? Pressed by reporters, Baca said he is committed to the goal of closing the old jail.

"I think I can close a significant portion of the Central Jail, particularly the old side, in the event there is no funding to tear it down or rebuild a new one," said Baca.

Baca says closing the notorious jail is doable. It's going to need the cooperation of the county and the courts. But there is little or no disagreement that the jail must be closed.

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