Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘los angeles county jail

Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail May Close (And a Footnote in Praise of Technocrats)

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Earlier this week Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announced plans to shut down L.A.’s notorious Men’s Central Jail. This is big news: L.A. County’s jails comprise not just the largest and most violent jail system in the nation, but also, by default, one of the nation’s largest mental health care providers. Over the years I have been writing this blog, I’ve often noted stories of violence and other problems in the L.A. County jails. So, planning to shutter the largest of those troubled facilities — Men’s Central, which houses as many as 5,000 inmates on any given day — is a noteworthy reform. (Of course, questions remain about whether/how the plans will be implemented.)

How, you might ask, can L.A. County do this — especially at a time when California’s realignment policy is shifting more responsibility to the county jails? The ACLU of Southern California, which has been suing L.A. County over its dismal jail conditions for years, explains:

[A] report [PDF here], by nationally-renowned corrections expert James Austin and based on data provided by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, finds that Men’s Central Jail can be shuttered by safely releasing 3,000 low-risk, non-violent pre-trial and sentenced inmates into community-based supervision and education programs that will curb recidivism, and by increasing the capacity of the county-wide jail system by 2,000 beds through a repurposing of existing facilities.

James Austin may be familiar to readers of this blog, because he also provided the data crunching needed for Mississippi to shut down its horrific solitary confinement wing, “Unit 32“. I noted previously that he was also working with New Orleans to downsize its jails, though it appears his recommendations there have not been implemented. His firm has also consulted for a number of states and the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance. Consultants, advisers, policy analysts don’t have the flashiest jobs, and unlike celebrity activists and high-profile lawyers rarely become household names, but work like Austin’s is what will make it possible for local and state governments to dismantle mass incarceration — and, ideally, to do so in a way that avoids the Pyrrhic victories that Bob Weisberg and Joan Petersilia have warned of.

Los Angeles County Sued Over Violence, Abuse in Jails

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“Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top commanders condoned a longstanding, widespread pattern of violence by deputies against inmates in the county jails,” said the ACLU yesterday, announcing a federal class-action lawsuit. The named plaintiffs, Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin, claim that they were severely beaten by sheriff’s deputies while they were awaiting trial in the jail.

The ACLU of Southern California has long been litigating L.A. jail conditions and has served as court-appointed monitor of the jail — the nation’s largest — since 1985. The new lawsuit, however, includes new first-hand eyewitness accounts from chaplains and other observers of violence. The ACLU has put together a timeline of alleged incidents of abuse; you can also read the full complaint here.

The L.A. Times reports:

“Like members of street gangs, these deputies sport tattoos to signal their gang membership,” the ACLU alleges. “They beat up inmates to gain prestige among their peers, and ‘earn their ink’ by breaking inmates’ bones.”

In an interview with The Times, a recently retired jails commander also said that deputies had formed cliques inside Men’s Central Jail and that some guards earned respect from veteran members of those cliques by using excessive force.

Fearmongering about Realignment in L.A. County

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To follow up on my post about realignment from yesterday, here’s an article from the Los Angeles Times quoting various supervisors predicting doom and gloom:

“It’s a system that’s meant to fail,” [Supervisor Michael] Antonovich said, “and who is it going to fail? Every neighborhood, every community where these people are going to be running around….It’s a Pandora’s box. It’s the bar scene — a violent bar scene that you saw in ‘Star Wars’ — except they’re all crazy and nuts.”

Antonovich said it is likely that Los Angeles County will run out of jail beds unless it “uses other models of supervisions such as electronic monitoring, work furloughs, weekenders and GPS tracking.”

“It’s irresponsible for us to turn around and dump these [prisoners] into our communities with an ankle bracelet and hope they don’t re-offend,” Antonovich said. Without finding a way to increase prison time, Antonovich said, “I believe we’ll have a spike in crime.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Realignment in California: The Basics, Plus How Counties Are Preparing

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On October 1, California will start diverting low-level felony offenders and parole violators to county jail, rather than state prison, when a new law, known as “realignment,” goes into effect. The law was proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown as a way to bring the California prison system into compliance with the Supreme Court’s order to alleviate overcrowding, and was enacted by the Legislature in March as AB 109. I thought I’d run through a few basics of how the law will work and round up some recent news coverage from around the state. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive resource, the ACLU of Northern California has produced a helpful guide (PDF) to the law and how counties can plan for the changes.

The Mechanics

  • How will AB 109 change California sentencing practices? As of October 1, the law transfers responsibility for punishing non-serious, non-violent, non-sex felony offenses to the county level, where misdemeanors are already handled. So rather than being sent to state prison, these low-level offenders will now be punished with a term in county jail or whatever alternative sanction the county comes up with. (For those familiar with the California Penal Code, generally we’re talking about felonies punishable by the “16 months/2 years/3 years” triad.)  Read the rest of this entry »

More Notable Plata News and Commentary

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This roundup will be sort of haphazard, but I just wanted to flag a few things that have come across the transom worth your attention:

  • Here’s an informative article by Jeanine Sharrock at New America Media that puts into perspective Gov. Jerry Brown’s “realignment” proposal, which would comply with Plata by shifting responsibility for low-level offenders down to the county level. About a third of California prisoners come from Los Angeles County, where the county jails have their own overcrowding problems, not to mention their own ongoing unconstitutional conditions litigation.
  • Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times has now weighed in. She characterizes the Kennedy opinion as a blast from the past to the 1970s era of sweeping structural reform injunctions. (As, of course, does the Scalia dissent, though Scalia comes to bury, not to praise.) Overall Greenhouse seems to approve, given the uniquely dire state of affairs in California’s prisons: “if the court can’t solve such problems, it still has the power to illuminate them and to summon our better selves. The court uses that power rarely these days, but in this one decision, it found a nearly forgotten voice from long ago.”
  • And here’s a detailed analysis of the opinion from Stuart Taylor, who has some sympathy for both the majority opinion and the Alito dissent but describes the Scalia dissent as “overheated.”

EDITED TO ADD: I meant to include one more:

  • Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee gives some additional context to the Justice Kennedy opinion. J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed federal receiver in charge of CDCR, was a Kennedy clerk back in Kennedy’s Ninth Circuit days.

ACLU Files Motion for Protective Order for L.A. County Jail Inmates

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The ACLU of Southern California, which has long been involved in litigation over conditions in the Los Angeles County Jail, filed a motion earlier this week in federal court seeking a protective order for inmates who report grievances. The motion alleges a pattern of violent retaliation by prison guards against these inmates, ranging from beatings and stompings to broken bones.

L.A. sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore says the ACLU is exaggerating:

“What the ACLU is characterizing does not occur in men’s central jail,” Whitmore said. “The judge that oversees it toured the jail recently without condemnation.”

Whitmore said “regrettably from time to time there are physical altercations,” but added that every use of force is thoroughly investigated and said the Office of Independent Review, which monitors the department, called the jail system the most transparent in the nation.

The L.A. County jail system is the largest in the nation, with some 20,000 inmates. Men’s Central Jail, which is the facility at issue in the protective order motion, holds about 4,500 men, of which about 80% are pretrial detainees. Last week two inmates committed suicide in the facility.

Related news: L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca is calling for an expansion of the ICE Secure Communities program.

Written by sara

October 12, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Growing Trend: Jails Around the Country Adopting Postcard-only Policies

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I’ve noted a couple of lawsuits against jails that have adopted postcard-only policies for inmate correspondence. The Los Angeles Times reports that this is a nationwide trend that’s now spread from Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County jails to at least seven states, including most recently, California’s Ventura County jail:

[Ventura County jail official Brent] Morris said that jail officials followed the emerging policy elsewhere through professional associations. They saw it as a way of both cutting security risks and freeing up staff. Two employees now spend most of their shifts sorting through mail flowing to and from 1,500 inmates.

“When you balance it with the challenge of budget and staffing, it seemed like a prudent thing to institute,” he said.

But for Los Angeles County, the tradeoff isn’t worth it, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department.

“We believe the mail coming to inmates is as important as their phone calls,” he said. “If we were to limit the mail, we believe we would see a rise in mental challenges, maybe even violence.”

UPDATE: Via Twitter, here’s a response from Just Detention International, which advocates for prison rape victims: “this could be problematic for organizations like JDI. We send important packets 2 survivors daily.”

“They Come to Expect Sub-Human Treatment”

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The ACLU of Southern California wrote an open letter to Lindsay Lohan, Los Angeles County’s most famous inmate, that’s been making its way around the blogosphere. Worth highlighting is the letter’s summary of the important work done by that particular ACLU branch as the court-appointed monitor for the L.A. County system:

Based on the ACLU’s decades of experience as an official court-appointed monitor of the jails, and the stories of countless women with whom we’ve spoken, the facility where you are staying is an overcrowded detention facility where women are needlessly humiliated for so long that they come to expect sub-human treatment.

It’s a place where an eight-months-pregnant woman was forced to sleep on the floor because she could not access the top bunk to which she was assigned. A  place where women have said they are made to stand naked while menstruating, as they waited for jail-issued clothes. And a place where women routinely tell us they cannot get access to the same medications they took in the community (though we doubt that you will face this same problem.)

Group punishments and degrading group strip searches are routine, as are reports of deputies calling women “bitches” and other derogatory names. And while you get private visits with your family and friends, every other woman’s visitors must wait in long lines on the weekends.

We know from the more than 4,500 complaints we receive annually that the women’s facility is a lot nicer than the Men’s Central Jail – where rats roam the tiers, and violence is as routine as sunshine in California. We’ve seen men with broken legs and black eyes. It‘s not uncommon for a prisoner to be thrown up against the wall or punched, simply for asking a deputy a question.

Written by sara

July 27, 2010 at 12:13 pm

The New York Times Swings at the L.A. County Justice System—and Whiffs

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I get it, even the New York Times needs page views now and then; and I know, Friday evenings aren’t the height of the news cycle. But even still, this is front page news (ok, well, homepage news)?

Meanwhile, I clicked on the NYT topic archive for “Los Angeles, Calif.” going back as far as October 2009 and found not a single article in that time span on the Los Angeles County criminal justice system’s actual problems. From a May 2010 ACLU report: Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Lohan’s Case for Criminal Justice Reform (???)

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Thanks to the intrepid journalists over at TMZ.com, here’s an excerpt from a letter sent by Michael Lohan’s lawyers to the Los Angeles judge who’s overseeing his daughter Lindsay’s probation for a DUI conviction:

Your Honor is aware that because of the current overcrowding in Los Angeles jails, misdemeanor, non-violent offenders like Lindsay serve only a fraction of their terms. In Lindsay’s case, her last term of incarceration lasted only 84 minutes. This not only made a laughingstock of our criminal justice system in the eyes of the world, … but taught her that jail is a revolving door and poses no real threat or deterrent. Overcrowding has not diminished in the last few years since this first incident, and thus we’d expect a similar very brief term of actual confinement.

In the event Lindsay is found to be in violation, Michael renews his request that the Court order Lindsay into an inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. We have previously written to the Court regarding a very private facility in New York — so private, that the public is unaware rehab takes place there.

Of course, the letter is only intended to help one particular celebrity defendant but I don’t see why it wouldn’t apply to, well, almost everyone else facing L.A. County jail time on a drug or alcohol probation violation. Too bad they don’t all have access to super top secret rehab facilities — what is this place — the Bat Cave? In any event, apparently Michael’s pleas were unavailing as the Los Angeles Times is now reporting that Lindsay’s been sentenced to jail for 90 days.

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