By Thomas Watkins
LOS ANGELES — The head of the nation's largest sheriff's department is warning that nearly 4,000 jail inmates might be released early and about 600 deputy and professional positions could be eliminated to meet budget cuts.
Owing to the economic crisis, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department faces a $71 million cut to its $2.5 billion budget in the coming fiscal year.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca told The Associated Press on Monday it looks as if he'll have to close two jails and eliminate the positions of the staff at those facilities.
"There's no way around me cutting $71 million out of the budget that won't affect having to close a jail or two," Baca said. "I have to start cutting."
Baca hasn't finalized plans, but said he was looking at closing two of the county's 10 jail facilities: the old central jail, which houses about 2,300 inmates; and part of another facility in Castaic in the north of the county that houses about 1,500 inmates. Violent offenders from the closed jails would be housed in other facilities.
Closing those facilities would eliminate positions for about 400 of the department's 10,000 deputies and another 200 or so civilian jobs would be lost too. The job cuts would come primarily through a hiring freeze.
Of the inmates that would be released early, Baca said he'd first look to nonviolent offenders who are awaiting trial.
Baca was forced to take similar action during an unforeseen downturn from 2002-05, when his department grappled with $180 million in cuts.
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The department provides law enforcement for 40 cities, dozens of unincorporated communities and 4 million residents. The department also runs the county's jail system, which has a population capped at 20,000 and includes 700 people accused of murder awaiting trial.