Sunday, July 09, 2006

A New Prison for Lost Souls

July 9, 1907
Los Angeles

Grace Methodist Episcopal Church on Hewitt Street was barren; the pastor had gone away and the congregation had moved on. And so the City Council, in struggling to house inmates at the crowded, filthy prison on West 4th Street, decided to lease the old church for $100 ($2,052.36 USD 2005) a month as a temporary jail until a larger facility could be built “more nearly adequate for a city of the size of Los Angeles,” The Times said.

In discussing the move, Councilman Wallace berated his fellow lawmakers for neglecting the jail and said the council members were far worse criminals for their neglect than anyone housed in the crumbling structure.

“In the present building there is almost an utter absence of ventilation. We have a building with but one open front, and we fill that front with offices. It appears that we have built a jail to keep the foul air of the prison from escaping that we desire to confine it there, keeping it away from the world.”

Wallace added that on a recent visit to the jail, he found several youths being held with hardened criminals. After learning that they had been caught “bathing improperly clad in a dam back of Eastlake Park” he persuaded police to free them.

“We have been looking complacently at conditions that were condemned 100 years ago,” Wallace said. “We are criminally responsible if we permit conditions to exist at the city prison that make such things possible. It is high time that we do something in the interest of common decency.”

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