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. Los Angeles County holds more inmates in custody than all jails in any of 37 U.S. states (although this is due to Los Angeles County’s overall population also being larger than most U.S. states). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2019, about 2% of all U.S. county jail inmates were locked up in Los Angeles County jails.
In the 2020-2021 County of Los Angeles budget, the Sheriff’s Department, which operates county jails, had a total budget of $3.3 billion, with $862 million (or about 26%) of that spent on its jail system. That included $806 million for payroll and benefits; $54.7 million for services and supplies; and $1.5 million for property items 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 2020, there were 220,012 arrests in Los Angeles County and 56,651 of these were booked into the county jail system. This was a much lower jail incarceration rate than in 2019, when, of 303,363 arrests, 110,941 (or 37%) ended up in county jails.
In 2020, Los Angeles County had an average daily inmate population of 14,212 within its jail system (reduced due to minimizing the incarcerated population during the COVID-19 pandemic). Of these, 1,501 were female.
|Year||Average Daily Inmate Population|
(1) Prop 47 enacted in Nov. 2014; (2) AB109 enacted in Oct. 2011
In 2020, there were 1,056 more inmates in custody than Los Angeles County’s jails were rated to hold (4,513 more inmates in pre-pandemic 2019 than).
|Jail Facility||Board of State & Community Corrections Rated Capacity||2020 (3)||2019|
|Quarterly Average Daily Inmate Population||Percent Occupied||Quarterly Average Daily Inmate Population||Percent Occupied|
|Men’s Central Jail||3,512||3,811||9%||4,540||129%|
|Twin Towers Correctional Facility||2,432||2,847||17%||3,353||138%|
|Century Regional Detention Center||1,708||1,457||-15%||2,153||126%|
|Pitchess Detention Center-East (4)||926||38||-96%||73||8%|
|Pitchess Detention Center-North||830||1,218||47%||1,430||172%|
|Pitchess Detention Center-South||782||725||-7%||1,459||187%|
|North County Correctional Facility||2,214||3,364||52%||3,909||177%|
(3) Jail populations reduced due to COVID-19 pandemic
(4) Used as a fire camp for inmate firefighters
In Los Angeles County jails in 2020, the average time spent in custody for all releases was 81 days (6 days, if not sentenced). Source: Board of State and Community Corrections.
The racial demographic for Los Angeles County’s jail population in 2020 was 54% Hispanic, 30% African American, and 13% 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.
Typically, the majority of Los Angeles County’s jail population is composed of nonviolent offenders. In 2019, inmates charged with violent offenses were only 45% of the population. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts in 2020 to reduce the jail population, that percentage increased to a majority of inmates at 54%.
In 2020, 44% of inmates were awaiting trial or sentencing in Los Angeles County’s jail system. About 6% were sentenced specifically to time in county jail and 10% were sentenced to jail under AB109. About 11% awaited transfer to a California state prison. About 5% were held for parole violations and other reasons.
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 119% from 2010 through 2020 (5). 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 2020, the average number of inmates with mental health problems accounted for 38% of the jail inmate population (up from 35% in 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.
(5) Average number of mental health inmates in 2010: 2,475; Average number in 2020: 5,416.
Unlike many jail facilities in the United States, the Los Angeles County jail system offers rehabilitation, educational, and vocational programs. In 2020, 39 inmates (61 in 2019), 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 1,993 inmates in 2020 (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 27% of its total staffing (4,692 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.