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Lack of buses keeps Los Angeles jail inmates from court appearances and contributes to overcrowding

Mar 21, 2024, 6:14 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Up to one-third of the 12,000 inmates in Los Angeles County jails can’t get to their court appearances because of a shortage of functioning buses, and county supervisors this week advanced a proposal to try and fix the problem.

The LA County Sheriff’s Department currently has only 23 operable buses out of a total of 82, and there have been days when as few as six were running, supervisors said.

Officials said the breakdown of the inmate transportation system has kept the county’s seven jails overcrowded with incarcerated people who might have been released by a judge or sentenced to a state prison — if they had appeared in court.

“Transportation should not be a barrier to administering justice. Having individuals sit in our jails because we can’t transport them to court is simply unacceptable,” Supervisor Lindsey Horvath said.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to implement an interim plan to get more working buses running from jails to courthouses and medical appointments. It includes borrowing vehicles from neighboring counties and asking the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to help transport inmates to state prisons.

A report on whether the proposal is feasible, and how to pay for it, is due in 45 days, the Daily News reported.

The current county budget includes funding for the sheriff’s department to buy 20 additional buses, but those purchases had not happened as of Tuesday. The board said it will take up to 1 1/2 years for the new buses to arrive and be fortified with security renovations so they can be used for transporting inmates.

The sheriff’s department has not received a single new bus since 2018, Supervisor Hilda Solis said. The buses currently in operation — which the county report said take 1,500 inmates daily to courthouses, medical appointments or to state prison — may not last through the end of the year, she said.

The situation is aggravated by the fact that about half of those in county lockups, including the Men’s Central Jail, are awaiting pretrial and have not been sentenced for a crime, the Daily News reported. Many sit in jail because they can’t post bail. Others are awaiting sentencing. The average daily inmate population in the system was about 12,177 in 2023.

Supervisor Janice Hahn suggested that the courts and the county public defender’s office use remote technology to reduce the need for in-person appearances.

It costs the county between $1.2 million and $1.6 million each year to maintain the fleet of aging buses, according to the approved motion.

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Lack of buses keeps Los Angeles jail inmates from court appearances and contributes to overcrowding