Here we provide updates to the 2016 CNN article "Pop. 17,049: Welcome to America's largest jail" by Breeanna Hare and Lisa Rose.
There are 2,850 jail jurisdictions in the United States and the Los Angeles County jail system is the largest of them all. Los Angeles County holds more inmates in custody than all jails in each of 37 U.S. states (although this may be because Los Angeles County’s overall population is actually larger than that of 43 U.S. states).
In 2020, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which oversees and staffs county jails, had a total budget of $3.3 billion, with $890 million (or about 27%) of that spent on the jail system. That included $830 million for payroll and benefits; $58.6 million for services and supplies; and $1.1 million for property items and equipment. Source: CEO of Los Angeles County.
If arrested in Los Angeles County, there is about a 36% chance that you will end up in the jail system. In 2019, there were 303,363 arrests in Los Angeles County and 110,941 of those were booked into the county jail system. This was a slightly lower incarceration rate in county jails than in the two previous years (37% in both 2017 and 2018).
In 2019, Los Angeles County had an average daily inmate population of 17,070 within its jail system. Of these, 2,196 were female.
|Year||Average Daily Inmate Population|
(1) Prop 47 enacted in Nov. 2014; (2) AB109 enacted in Oct. 2011
In 2019, there were 4,053 more inmates in custody than Los Angeles County’s jails are rated to hold. All but one facility (a small fire camp) housed many more inmates than their rated capacities.
|Jail Facility||Board of State & Community Corrections Rated Capacity||2019 Quarterly Average Daily Inmate Population||Percent Occupied|
|Men’s Central Jail||3,512||4,540||129%|
|Twin Towers Correctional Facility||2,432||3,353||138%|
|Century Regional Detention Center||1,708||2,153||126%|
|Pitchess Detention Center-East (3)||926||73||8%|
|Pitchess Detention Center-North||830||1,430||172%|
|Pitchess Detention Center-South||782||1,459||187%|
|North County Correctional Facility||2,214||3,909||177%|
(3) Used as a fire camp for inmate firefighters
In Los Angeles County jails in 2019, the average time spent in custody was 62 days. At the Century Regional Detention Center, the average stay for women inmates was 38 days. Source: Board of State and Community Corrections.
The racial demographic for Los Angeles County’s jail population in 2019 was 53% Hispanic, 29% African American, and 15% White. 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.
Los Angeles County’s jail population is composed primarily of nonviolent offenders. However, about 45% of inmates were jailed for violent or serious offenses against persons, including aggravated assault, carjacking, child molestation, kidnapping, manslaughter, and rape.
In 2019, 44% of inmates were awaiting trial or sentencing in Los Angeles County’s jail system. About 9% were sentenced specifically to time in county jail and 14% were sentenced to jail under AB109. About 5% awaited transfer to a California state prison. About 7% were held for parole violations and other reasons.
Besides being the largest in the nation, Los Angeles County’s jail system also has the unfortunate distinction of being the largest mental health institutions in the nation. The number of inmates in the Los Angeles County jail system with mental health problems increased 143% from 2010 through 2019 (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 the final quarter of 2019, inmates with mental health problems accounted for 35% of the entire jail inmate population. The challenge of properly handling this growing number of inmates dealing with mental illness only further strains the already overcrowded jail system. Currently, Los Angeles County is building a new facility, the Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility, near the location of Men’s Central Jail to offer expanded facilities for mentally ill inmates.
(4) Average number of mental health inmates in 2010: 2,475; Average number in 2019: 6,015.
Unlike many jail facilities in the United States, the Los Angeles County jail system offers rehabilitation, educational, and vocational programs. In 2019, 61 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 2,805 inmates in 2019, or 16% all county inmates), the Education-Based Incarceration Program (EBI) (traditional and nontraditional education for inmates), the Fire Camp Training Program (training firefighters 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 assigns about 31% of its total staffing (5,630 employees) to its Custody Division. About half of these are deputies. The rest are civilian staff such as custody assistants, medical personnel, administrative, kitchen and other support staff.
Source for most information on this page: Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department