Posts Tagged ‘los angeles’
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 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.
“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.
“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 »
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.
- 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 »
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.
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.
The Economist has been on a roll lately with coverage of the American criminal justice system. Today the magazine published this article on California’s three strikes law (the appeal described was litigated by Emily Galvin, a student in Stanford Law School’s Criminal Defense Clinic). As the article highlights, this year’s California AG race is shaping up to be interesting. San Francisco DA Kamala Harris has not won many fans statewide with her strict no-death-penalty policy, so she’ll seek to prove her tough-on-crime bona fides, in part, by muting her criticisms of the three strikes law. Her Republican opponent, Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley, has more leeway to be vocal:
… Steve Cooley has other ideas about Three Strikes, which he values as a “powerful recidivist tool” but also considers “draconian”. Mr Cooley has become the first DA in California to have a written policy not to invoke the three-strikes law when neither the current crime nor the previous strikes are violent or serious. … As a conservative, he need not be as paranoid as his Democratic rival about being called soft on crime. The son of an FBI agent and a proponent of the death penalty, Mr Cooley can point out the obvious—that the law is often egregiously unjust—and still be considered tough.
With or without a written policy, the San Francisco DA’s office has historically charged far fewer three strikes cases than other counties. But Kamala Harris will certainly not emphasize that in her campaign.