LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Sheriff Lee Baca proposed today that prisoners to be paroled by the state be jailed temporarily in Los Angeles County jails.

The state’s release of low-level offenders to county supervision, set to begin Oct. 1, is part of a plan to cut state costs and to reduce the state’s prison population, which has been far higher than allowed by federal law for years.

When prisoners are paroled, they are given a bus ticket, $200 and an address to report to.

But Baca said the county can’t count on those parolees to show up as requested.

“We have to account for these parolees from the minute they hit this county,” Baca said, later adding, “We can’t afford to herd cats up and down the state of California.”

Probation Chief Donald Blevins, whose department will have lead responsibility for the low-level parolees, agreed that a short-term hold in county jails would have “some benefit,” because it would allow probation officers to schedule face-to-face interviews.

Legally, the prisoners would have to be sent to Los Angeles before being officially paroled in order to implement Baca’s plan. Once paroled, the county would have no right to detain them, absent a parole violation.

Baca said he thought state officials would be open to his suggestion to hold prisoners for a day or two.

Supervisor Gloria Molina warned that the plan would create more problems than it solved.

“I think it’s a huge mistake to try and take ownership of a prisoner before he becomes our responsibility,” Molina said. “Let’s not ask for more liability.”

As the county considered how to deal with the shift of parolees from state to local supervision, Baca originally argued that his department, rather than probation, should be the lead agency. He is now, however, coordinating a plan with Blevins in charge.

Blevins said today he expected to have that plan to the board by Friday.

He remained confident today about his department’s ability to significantly improve the prison system’s recidivism rate, which he said stands at 70 percent, saying he hoped to drop it below 30 percent.

Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky warned against the dangers inherent in the influx of parolees.

“It will be like the violent (version of the) bar scene in Star Wars,” Antonovich said, while Yaroslavsky agreed it would have a detrimental effect on local crime rates.

Both warned that the county’s cost for taking on parolees would not ultimately be covered by state funding.

“This is the classic bait and switch,” Yaroslavsky said. Once the 58 California counties got on board with the state’s plan, “you couldn’t get a return phone call” from state officials, he said.

By Elizabeth Marcellino | City News Service