Here we provide an update to the 2016 CNN article "Pop. 17,049: Welcome to America's largest jail" by Breeanna Hare and Lisa Rose.
There are 3,096 county jail jurisdictions in the United States and the Los Angeles County jail system is the largest. Because Los Angeles County’s population is larger than that of most U.S. states, its jail system holds more inmates than all jails in any of 37 U.S. states. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2019, about 2% of all U.S. county jail inmates were in the custody of Los Angeles County jails.
In the 2021-2022 County of Los Angeles budget, the Sheriff’s Department, which operates county jails, had a total budget of $3.37 billion, with $842.6 million (or about 24%) of that spent on its jail system. That included $3.16 billion for payroll and benefits; $238.7 million for services and supplies; and $17.3 million for capital assets and equipment. Source: CEO of Los Angeles County.
If arrested in Los Angeles County, there is a 26% chance that you will end up in the county jail system. In 2021, there were 202,350 arrests in Los Angeles County and 53,208 of these were booked into the county jail system. This was a much lower arrest and jail incarceration rate than in pre-pandemic 2019, when, of 303,363 arrests, 110,941 (37%) ended up in county jails.
In 2021, Los Angeles County had an average daily inmate population of 14,577 within its jail system (reduced from more than 17,000 prior to 2020, due to reducing the incarcerated population during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020). Of these, 1,418 were female.
|Year||Average Daily Inmate Population|
(1) Prop 47 enacted in Nov. 2014; (2) AB109 enacted in Oct. 2011
By December 2020, there were 2,447 more inmates in custody than Los Angeles County’s jails were rated to hold. Earlier in 2020, from May through July, the county's jail population fell below its rated capacity of 12,406. This occurred as the county sought to respond to skyrocketing COVID-19 infection rates in overcrowded jail facilities by releasing less-serious offenders. The only other time in recent memory in which Los Angeles County's jail population actually dropped below its rated capacity was from March through July of 2011. Source: Board of State and Community Corrections.
|Jail Facility||Board of State & Community Corrections Rated Capacity||2021||2020|
|4th Quarter Average Daily Inmate Population||Percent Occupied||4th Quarter Average Daily Inmate Population||Percent Occupied|
|Men’s Central Jail||3,512||3,495||100%||4,096||117%|
|Twin Towers Correctional Facility||2,432||2,777||114%||3,039||125%|
|Century Regional Detention Center||1,708||1,351||79%||1,386||81%|
|Pitchess Detention Center-East (3)||926||16||2%||23||2%|
|Pitchess Detention Center-North||830||1,181||142%||1,376||166%|
|Pitchess Detention Center-South||782||760||97%||474||61%|
|North County Correctional Facility||2,214||3,056||138%||3,746||169%|
(3) Used as a fire camp for inmate firefighters
In Los Angeles County jails, by the last quarter of 2020, the average time spent in custody for all releases was 81 days (83 days if sentenced, 6 days if not sentenced). Source: Board of State and Community Corrections.
The racial demographic for Los Angeles County’s jail population in the last quarter of 2021 was 54% Hispanic, 29% African American, and 13% White. Asians made up less than 1% and American Indians even less. African Americans made up an overly disproportionate share of the jail population as compared to their overall proportion of the overall county population (about 8 percent). To be clear, this disproportionate representation is not unique to Los Angeles County and is seen in jail populations across the nation.
Typically, the majority of Los Angeles County’s jail population is composed of nonviolent offenders. In pre-pandemic 2019, those charged with violent offenses were 45% of the inmate population. In 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts then to reduce the jail population, that percentage increased to a majority of inmates at 54%. By the last quarter of 2021, that percentage stood at 57% of the jail population.
In the last quarter of 2021, 46% of inmates awaited trial or sentencing in Los Angeles County’s jail system. About 5% were sentenced specifically to time in county jail, 7% were sentenced to jail under AB109, and 23% were partially sentenced. About 12% awaited transfer to a California state prison. About 3% were held for parole violations. About 4% awaited transfer to mental health hospitals.
Besides Los Angeles County’s jail system being the largest in the nation, it is also one of the largest mental health institutions in the nation. The number of inmates in the Los Angeles County jail system with mental health problems increased 137% from 2010 through 2021 (4). With few other options in the criminal justice system, a growing number of mentally ill persons in Los Angeles County end up incarcerated in jail. In 2021, the average number of inmates with mental health problems accounted for 40% of Los Angeles County's jail inmate population (up from 35% in pre-pandemic 2019). The challenge of properly handling this growing number of inmates with mental health issues only further strains an already crowded jail system. Los Angeles County is moving to construct a new facility to replace Men's Central Jail, the Mental Health Treatment Center, that will focus on mentally health treatment for inmates.
(4) Average number of mental health inmates in 2010: 2,475; Average number in 2021: 5,875.
Unlike many jail facilities in the United States, the Los Angeles County jail system offers rehabilitation, educational, and vocational programs. In the last quarter of 2021, three inmates, after extensive training, were assigned to fire-fighting duties at California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation camps, including those operating in Los Angeles County. Other in-custody programs in which inmates participated were the Conservation Work Program, involving an average of 1,671 inmates in the last quarter of 2021 (2,805 in 2019), the Education-Based Incarceration Program (EBI) (traditional and nontraditional education for inmates), the Fire Camp Training Program (training fire fighters for state fire camps), the Back on Track Program (helping inmates with post-incarceration) and the Substance Treatment and Reentry Transition program (START) (treatment for inmates with substance abuse issues and help with transition into post-incarceration).
To oversee and care for its huge inmate population, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department currently assigns about 28% of its total staffing (4,706 employees) to its Custody Division (31% in 2019). About half of these are deputies. The rest are civilian staff such as custody assistants, medical personnel, administrative, kitchen and other support staff.