Here’s one thing you may not think about when landing at Los Angeles International Airport: Just 11 miles away sits the biggest jail system in America.
With an inmate population the size of a private college and a budget just north of $700 million, the L.A. County Jail is as sprawling and as complex as Los Angeles itself.
The institution – recovering from a massive inmate abuse scandal in 2011 – is one of roughly 2,750 jail jurisdictions across the United States. In midyear 2014, approximately 744,600 people were held in jails nationwide, according to the Department of Justice, most of them facing criminal charges and awaiting their fate in the court system.
The United States is well-known for having the highest prison population rate in the world, and while America’s prisons have come under increased scrutiny with a push for criminal justice reform, there hasn’t been such laser-focus on what’s happening in the country’s jails.
Here’s a look at what you’ll find inside America’s largest lockup in Los Angeles, and what it takes to run such an extensive operation:
17,000-20,000 inmates on average
The average number of inmates in L.A. County on a daily basis fluctuates from year to year. In 2000, the daily average was 19,297 inmates. By 2010, that average dropped to 16,625 before climbing back up, according to Lieutenant Tab Rhodes with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, which operates the jail system.
In 2015, L.A. County housed 17,049 inmates daily on average. To put it another way, 31% more people were in the L.A. County jail than residing on campus at the nearby University of Southern California.
7 facilities across 4,000 square miles
This collection of buildings make up a jail system that’s spread out across a sizable stretch of Southern California, covering a swath of the state that’s nearly twice the size of Delaware.
2,690 inmates over capacity
Nearly all of L.A. County’s facilities were overwhelmed with inmates in 2015. While the Men’s Central Jail was the most populated building in 2015, it was also the only one that didn’t have to deal with overcrowding.
37% of arrests lead to booking
In 2015, there were 304,288 arrests, and 112,538 of those arrestees were booked into the L.A. County jail system, according to the LASD.