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Following a COVID-19-related push to drop Los Angeles County’s jail population by roughly 5,000 inmates to prevent the spread of the virus, the number of prisoners has grown by nearly 15 percent, according to a report posted to the county’s website.

As of Aug. 27, the countywide jail population was 13,280, up from a low of 11,723 just a few months ago. That uptick was attributed in part to restrictions on transfers during the coronavirus pandemic that have put thousands of individuals in limbo awaiting relocation to state prisons or state hospitals.

A May transfer of 121 inmates from a state prison in Chino is thought to have been responsible for an outbreak at San Quentin that infected more than 2,200 inmates in the Bay Area lockup and killed more than two dozen inmates and employees.

The total puts the county back over the system’s state-rated capacity of 12,404, according to a working group tasked with figuring out how the county might close the downtown Men’s Central Jail.

Bookings may also have increased, as the Men’s Central Jail numbers jumped by 11 percent in the first two weeks of August, according to analysis provided by the Vera Institute of Justice for the county report. Crimes that dropped sharply during the early months of the pandemic, including violent crimes, have increased as some public restrictions have been lifted, according to both the Los Angeles Police Department and county Sheriff’s Department.

The update, submitted to the board with a letter from Dr. Christina Ghaly, who runs the county’s hospital and clinic system, was dated Sept. 9 and posted last week. It was developed by a working group that includes the Department of Health Services, Sheriff’s Department and Office of Diversion and Reentry.

“L.A. County has a historic opportunity to close MCJ, an unsafe, crowded, crumbling jail facility built in 1963 that is unsuitable for individuals being detained and employees working there,’’ the report began.

“As documented in multiple lawsuits, the facility is inadequate for the provision of essential medical and mental health care and other services and programs to address the complex needs of the nearly 4,000 individuals who end up there—who are overwhelmingly Latinx, Black and other people of color.’’

The Men’s Central Jail holds about 30 percent of the county’s jail inmates and is located close to the downtown criminal courthouse. The working group is tasked with determining how it could relocate thousands of inmates from that facility without creating overcrowding elsewhere.

One reason the math could work is that many individuals are jailed for only a day or two and could instead be diverted into community care or freed pending charges or trial. Though the county’s jails had exceeded state overcrowding limits for years, once the coronavirus struck, it took roughly three months for the Sheriff’s Department to bring the population down. 

Thousands of non-violent alleged offenders awaiting trial and inmates with short time left on their sentences were released, some into community treatment and others on their own recognizance.