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Jail Alternatives in LA’s Criminal Justice System

Jail Alternatives in LA's Criminal Justice SystemWelcome to Los Angeles County. Home of the largest municipal jail facility in the world; Home of one of the most overcrowded jails in the country; Home of some of the most disgusting jail conditions in the country. Even inmates in Los Angeles County Jail are almost always released far early than the terms of the sentence require, many people simply do not want to spend a night amidst the filth and violence within the jail system. For years I have said that I would gladly pick up garbage on the side of the freeway (Cal-Trans) for a month before I spent a day in County Jail. That sentiment still holds true today.

How then do we avoid time in jail? There are actually many ways to avoid jail here in Los Angeles. First, we can try to avoid a conviction all together. If that doesn’t work and we are not otherwise eligible for some program like drug diversion or Veteran’s Court, we look to what has long been referred to as “alternative sentencing” choices. Alternative sentencing is really nothing more than creative lawyering, in combination with good negotiating.

One very common alternative to jail is electronic monitoring. Also referred to as House Arrest, electronic monitoring can be obtained in several different ways. First, the judge can agree to it. The defendant can call Sentinel Monitoring to make an appointment and get hooked up to the ankle bracelet and follow the pre-set rules governing the confinement.

Next, we can be sentenced to jail and then released from the jail on house arrest. This doesn’t always avoid a brief stay in jail. Typically, I would surrender a client to jail on a Monday and call the probation department and get them to interview my client for house arrest suitability. The client would likely be released from jail within two days of the approval. They would then get hooked up with the ankle monitor and head for home.

Noting that the previous example doesn’t not avoid ANY jail time, there is a twist that sometimes works for us. In some cases, judges will authorize what has become known as a “counter book surrender”. If we can get a judge to allow our clients to surrender for jail directly at the Inmate Reception Center downtown and they have already filled out their application for house arrest, they will often been sent directly to be hooked up to the monitor without ever seeing the inside of the jail. Understand that this is not a guarantee, but normally works.

If you don’t like the idea of being locked up in your own home and you have a strong back, you may opt for one of the work service options in lieu of jailtime. Here in Los Angeles we have several options: 1. Cal-Trans, 2. Graffiti Removal, 3. Venice Beach Cleanup and last, but not least, 4. The Tree Farm. These are all community labor substitutes for jail in Los Angeles. None are particularly easy, but my clients typically prefer Beach Cleanup to Graffiti Removal and last in line is Cal-Trans. The Tree Farm is probably third in terms of labor intensity, but is only available in Pomona and West Covina Courts.

For those with documented injuries or even more favorable settlements there is also community service as an option for service. These options include working at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Thrift Stores, and other similar options. Generally, the trade off from community labor to community service is 1 to 1.5. This is to say that you should expect to perform 50% more community service than you would as community labor. All other things being equal, I think I would take that trade most days.

Another option to jail might simply be to pay a fine. This may seem unfair and some judges and prosecutors do not like the idea of being able to “buy” oneself out of jail or work. Nonetheless we still pull it off frequently. There are some things to remember about court fines. First, a fine is really what it is stated to be. With any misdemeanor conviction there are mandatory fees that must be paid. This normally totals over $300 without any fine. Once a fine is imposed the game changes. On top of any fine is a “penalty assessment” or tax which quadruples the fine. Then the fees are added to that. For example, a first offense, misdemeanor DUI conviction carries a mandatory minimum fine of $390. The total due after the taxes and fees is about $2,500. Fines can also be worked off as community labor or community or jail time.

You have options, lot’s of them. Call me before you plead guilty.

Jeffrey S. Vallens (818) 783-5700 or email me at:

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