Court officials say Chatsworth lockup can’t ease overcrowding

first_imgThis isn’t the first time the $96 million Chatsworth Courthouse has been the subject of controversy. The courthouse, originally planned in the 1980s, was delayed by the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, construction disputes and neighborhood opposition. The 300,000-square-foot facility opened in 2002 at Winnetka Avenue and Plummer Street. After promising nearby residents that only misdemeanor cases would be handled at the courthouse, court officials decided in 2003 to transfer felony trials to other courthouses, allowing the lockup facility to be closed and saving the cash-strapped court system $1 million annually. Today, the courthouse only handles civil matters and doesn’t use the lockup facility at all. “If and when we ever get funds to build the courthouse out to the number of courtrooms it’s supposed to have, then that dynamic could change,” Parachini said. “When we had to consolidate operations during the 2002 budget crisis, we combined functions of the Chatsworth and Van Nuys lockups. The one in Van Nuys could handle the sole demand for both of them, and it’s much cheaper to run than the two. “It was a fiscal decision that resulted in the Chatsworth Courthouse being converted to a civil-only courthouse, at least for the time being.” Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said Sheriff Lee Baca has no desire to use the Chatsworth lockup to house inmates. “It’s a court facility and it would be cost-prohibitive to turn that into a full jail,” Whitmore said. “Just to bring it online as a lockup would cost $3.5 million.” The jurors’ concerns come as the Sheriff’s Department has been reopening some jails throughout the county to ease overcrowded. Because the jails are so full, Baca has granted early release to hundreds of thousands of inmates in recent years, many whom only served 10 percent of their sentences. In an effort to address the problem, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation earlier this week that will shift thousands of inmates sentenced for minor, nonviolent crimes out of county jail beds and into electronic-monitoring systems using ankle bracelets. This will allow the additional jail beds to be used to ensure violent criminals serve longer portions of their sentences. Up to 2,000 inmates in the county jail system will be placed into electronic monitoring systems. Currently, about 400 offenders are on electronic monitoring. “This should alleviate a lot of the overcrowding,” said Supervisor Don Knabe, who proposed the legislation last year. “And the big thing here is to allow law enforcement and judges to have control over sentencing, versus the prisoners themselves. “For those convicted of minor offenses, it should help to alleviate some of the overcrowding while also keeping the bad guys in there.” troy.anderson@dailynews.com (213) 974-8985160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Los Angeles County court officials said Friday that while a civil grand jury has described an unused detention facility at the Chatsworth Courthouse as a “multimillion dollar boondoggle,” the structure cannot be used to permanently house inmates. In a report this summer, jurors wrote that the “Chatsworth Jail” includes a state-of-the-art detention facility engineered to accommodate 350 prisoners, but is empty and not being used even as state prisons are full beyond capacity. But Superior Court spokesman Allan Parachini said the Chatsworth facility is a “lockup” – like those in courthouses around the county – used to temporarily house inmates as they await court appearances. Under state regulations, Parachini said the facility cannot be used like a jail because it does not have medical, kitchen or laundry facilities. “It just ain’t a jail,” Parachini said. “It’s unfortunate the Grand Jury mistook it for a jail facility. Maybe they didn’t fully understand the difference between a jail and a lockup. A lockup is different from a jail in a variety of ways. “The cells are not designed for overnight occupancy. And obviously, there is no security perimeter around the building, which would be another requirement of a jail. “It is a courthouse with a lockup. It was never designed, and as currently configured, never could be a jail.” But in their report, jurors said the facility “sits in an empty, pristine and unused condition, despite the fact that the Board of Supervisors is well aware of the appalling conditions at both Twin Towers and Men’s Central Jail. “Who is responsible for the multimillion dollar boondoggle, also known as the Chatsworth Jail?” last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *