NBC Southern California – The gutting of Men’s Central Jail cells to be replaced with inmate classrooms is one element of a dramatic re-envisioning of the Los Angeles County jail system as proposed by Sheriff Lee Baca.

During his tenure, Baca has expanded educational opportunities for county inmates. Gutting the old central jail to make room for inmate classrooms would take the program to a new level.

Inmates who obtain their high school graduate equivalent degrees (GEDs) are more likely to find work when released into society, and less likely to re-offend, Baca is convinced.

The response to the county’s inmate educational program is “like nothing I’ve seen in my 47 years in law enforcement,” Baca told reporters Tuesday outside the County Hall of Administration.

“It’s a good idea,” said one man following his release from Men’s Central Jail after serving a week for a drug violation. “Not everyone, but a lot of the men want to change.”

“Education can help,” said the former inmate, who declined to give his name.

Other aspects of his plan include building a new central jail, repurposing Lancaster’s Mira Loma detention center, and transferring women inmates out of the Century Regional Detention Facility, either to Mira Loma or to the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.

The estimated cost would be about $1 billion, according to a 21-page letter sent to the County Board of Supervisors by Baca and William T. Fujioka, the county’s chief executive officer.

The proposal was on the agenda for Tuesday’s Board meeting, but was removed after two Supervisors brought a motion calling for additional research and analysis before the county considers approving a comprehensive jail plan.

It’s expected a private consultant will have the report ready in two months, said Supervisor Michael Antonovich, co-author of the motion with Supervisor Gloria Molina.

Removing the plan from the agenda did not deter members of activist groups from speaking against jail expansion during the public comment period Tuesday.

“Put a moratorium on all jail expansion plans,” said Sheila Pinkel, of the group LA No More Jails, which encourages the county to seek alternatives to incarceration, particularly for female inmates.

The Century Regional Justice Center which currently houses women in Lynwood was designed as a men’s jail. Transferring women to another facility would make room for male custodies and enable the facility to be more fully utilized, Baca said.

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