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A Vision for Supportive Pretrial Services in LA County 

→ See The Full Version of this Vision

A Vision for Supportive Pretrial Services in LA County: Abridged

November 2022

Introduction: 

On any given day, nearly 7,000 people in Los Angeles County jails are at the pretrial phase of the criminal legal process, this number represents 45.7% of the County’s current jail population. LA County finds itself at a crossroads– the County can either choose to prioritize investments in the future of our communities, or systems that dehumanize Angelenos of color and perpetuate cyclical poverty. While the County has committed itself to a Care First vision for Los Angeles, the jail population continues to rise and people are spending more time in jail, away from critical services and resources. 

In March 2022, the County established the Justice, Care and Opportunities Department (JCOD) and tasked this new department with implementing and housing the County’s pretrial services agency. Shifting pretrial services into an independent agency is a critical first step in implementing the ATI pretrial recommendations; however, in order to ensure the success of the County’s new system, additional recommendations must be adopted in shaping JCOD. 

Grounded in best practices developed by national experts, the Community Care and Support Agency (CASA) model, ATI recommendations, and continuous community engagement, LA County’s care-based pretrial services model must be anchored in the following components:

  • The presumption of release 
  • Care and support, and NOT supervision
  • A commitment to address the long-standing, pervasive racial disproportionality issues in LA County’s jail system
  • Making significant advances towards the closure of Men’s Central Jail

In order to achieve and operationalize these anchoring components, the County should apply the following methods: 

  • Articulating a Comprehensive Vision and Concrete Benchmarks for JCOD: JCOD was founded in direct response to the findings of the Alternatives to Incarceration working group and designated as the County department to oversee pretrial services. Yet JCOD’s current mission is vague, shortsighted, missing key components of the ATI report findings, and lacks any discernible commitment to an actual Care First vision. JCOD’s pretrial model must articulate a clear plan for collaboration with judicial actors, service providers, and community stakeholders for group development of a departmental vision that is robust, focused, and geared towards tackling the issue of over incarceration in Los Angeles County through a socioeconomic, gender, and racial equity lens. The plan should include concrete goals, timelines, and benchmarks for implementation alongside other county departments and work groups. 


  • Community Engagement and Collaboration: Community engagement is a critical part of development and implementation of an effective and care-centered pretrial model. JCOD needs to establish concrete structures–including a JCOD steering committee, a community advisory board, and community engagement workgroups–to work with community leaders and organizations. Together they should articulate a robust vision for how its pretrial model will supportively move people out of jail and into community based structures of care. Once JCOD’s pretrial model is established, ongoing opportunities for community feedback must continue as outlined in recommendations 88 and 76 of the Care First, Jail Last Roadmap. (see full list of recs here).


  • Presumption of Release: As the COVID emergency zero bail order revealed, there are thousands of people who enter the jails who can and should immediately be released. Recommendations #55 and #56 of the ATI report recommend that the County institute a presumption of pretrial release for all individuals, especially those with mental health needs. The County’s pretrial services framework must ground itself in a presumption of pretrial release, prioritize release at the earliest possible point in the criminal legal process and create more efficient pretrial process and standards for assessing the needs, developing safety plans, and securing release of individuals at arraignment no later than 24 hours after arrest. The County should advocate for legislative changes that advance the presumption of release, and expand resources for the offices of the Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender. (see full list of recs here).


  • Care and Support not Supervision: Successful pre-trial models from across California and the country show that two components are necessary for Los Angeles’ pretrial model: 1) that it be grounded in community based support, 2) without supervision. Reliance on supervision denies the constitutional presumption of innocence and failure to comply with supervisorial requirements often lead to extreme consequences such as re-incarceration pre-trial and potentially harsher sentences. Surveillance-based conditions to pretrial release limit the viability of community support. To implement robust and effective pre-trial services, Los Angeles County must ensure service connection is provided at the earliest point possible and is led by a Community Care and Support Agency (CASA) rather than the probation department. 


  • Service Providers: Invest in Safety by Resourcing Care: A Care First model that centers public health and safety must center community based service providers who foreground trauma-informed care approaches. Emphasis must be placed on community service providers who provide specific and tailored services for individuals with mental health and substance use needs. All service providers included in the pretrial model must be aligned with Care First and have long-standing community trust. JCOD can work with the County to expedite funding processes for very-small to medium sized organizations to expand the pool of services providers able to meet the needs of pretrial populations and expand workforce development for the mental-health sector (see full list of recs here)


  • Tracking Progress Through Data Collection, Utilization, and Transparency: Frequent collection and reporting of data allows for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the County’s pretrial model. Data is also a tool for accountability and will support community advocates and public defenders in their own analyses of JCOD’s development. JCOD must build and maintain an adequate data infrastructure to ensure robust program evaluation and Conduct periodic data analysis to address issues of inequity and efficiency and implement evidence based practices in collaboration with the JCOD Steering Committee.  

Conclusion

The County’s investments into the Justice Care and Opportunity Department have the potential to transform a legal system that has, for too long, harmed low-income, unhoused, and communities of color in Los Angeles. We are at the precipice of change; to reimagine the future of Los Angeles County, it is necessary to finally invest in Care First systems and structures that reduce pretrial incarceration and help us realize the closure of Men’s Central Jail. 

→ See The Full Version of this Guide

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News

JusticeLA Statement regarding LASD Funding in WeHo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JUNE 29 2022

MEDIA CONTACTS

Janet Asante, (310) 722-1474 janet@dignityandpowernow.org
Ambrose Brooks S., (310) 847-0196 ambrose@dignityandpowernow.org

 

After Community Outcry, West Hollywood City Council Votes to Remove 5 Sheriffs Deputies in the 2023 Fiscal Year and Reconsider Law Enforcement’s Patrol of Pride

Los Angeles, CA—Monday night, West Hollywood (WeHo) City Council made a historic vote to reallocate $1.6 million from the sheriff’s contract to a different model of security. Council agreed to invest in its own alternative crisis response team as well as the replacement of armed Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies at next year’s Pride parade. 

WeHo is the first of 42 contract cities in LA County’s history to successfully challenge the skyrocketing costs of its annual service agreement with the LASD. In February, the WeHo Public Safety Commission recommended the City Council direct $3.6M out of the Sheriff’s contract into social services such as mental health, alternative crisis response teams, and permanent supportive housing. 

While this recommended reallocation of  $3.6M is a drop in the bucket of the overall $3.6 billion budget of the sheriff’s department, WeHo Captain Moulder claimed during the meeting that a lack of deputies has resulted in skyrocketing grand theft in the city. It has come to light that this grand theft refers to stolen cell phones at nightclubs. With 60 LASD Officers in the two square mile city, soaking up one sixth of the annual budget, the Department admitted that the thefts it solved summed up to 2 out of 249 stolen phones.

An unprecedented campaign to reallocate dollars from LASD to social services has been supported by the 17th president of the NAACP, founder of CalEITC4Me, former mayors, and more. City staff ignored data, residents’ demands, as well as the Safety Commission’s recommendations –– and proposed allocating an additional $1,030,000 to LASD this year plus $500,000 to audit the sheriff department’s self audit. 

Community organizations such as JusticeLA, Partners for Justice, Fund for Guaranteed Income, CURB, La Defensa, Dignity and Power Now, Gender Justice LA, Re-Imagine LA Coalition, and ACLU along with West Hollywood residents spent weeks making their concerns about this misappropriation of funds heard. As a result of this successful mobilization, WeHo will remove five deputies from the FY2023 contract.

Ivette Alé-Ferlito, Dignity and Power Now’s Director of Policy and Advocacy shared, “West Hollywood City Council’s decision to significantly reduce the reallocation of funding from the corrupt and fiscally incompetent Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is indefensible. As a Queer migrant organizer, I and many others in the community would like to see a full transformation of WeHo’s public safety system. The Public Safety Committee’s proposal to shift $3.6 million from the Sheriff’s budget was not that; it was simply a pragmatic step towards a more holistic vision that prioritizes care, and the Council could not deliver. The $2.4 million dollars they chose not to reallocate means that community-based services like HIV prevention, alternative crisis response, and mental health care will remain underfunded. Queer, Trans, Black, Brown, low income and otherwise vulnerable community members will continue to be most impacted by the Council’s lack of political will. We encourage West Hollywood leadership to stop tinkering at the margins and make the bold decisions their residents so desperately need.”

Ambrose Brooks, JusticeLA Coalition coordinator, remarked, “West Hollywood City Council’s June 27th budget vote is a step in the right direction: away from funding Sheriff’s violence and towards investing in care. The LA County Sheriff’s Department is charging contract cities tens of millions of dollars each year to criminalize Black, Brown, Queer, and Trans commnuities. All this while LASD imposes astronomical liability costs on cities with limited operating budgets. We thank Councilmembers Sepi Shyne, John D’Amico, and Lindsey Horvath, who openly recognized both these inequities and the fiscal irresponsibility of LASD, and voted accordingly. Other Los Angeles County contract cities must take the same path as West Hollywood, and also re-evaluate their costly contracts with LASD.”

During the Monday night meeting, WeHo residents expressed their frustrations with the Sheriff’s department budget and contract. And hundreds of letters were sent to Council over the past several months as residents learned the amount of money the city spends on one Sheriff’s deputy. WeHo’s bold yet insufficient decision to reallocate funds from the largest and deadliest sheriff’s department in the world laid down the gauntlet for other contract cities. The Council’s decision indicates what is possible, and what is next, in LA county –– the reimagination of public safety as investments in community-based alternatives to law enforcement. 

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About the JusticeLA Coalition:
JusticeLA is a partnership of grassroots organizations, advocates, directly impacted communities, and stakeholders to reduce the footprint of incarceration by stopping jail expansion and reclaiming, reimagining and reinvesting dollars away from incarceration and into community-based systems of care.

» VIEW & DOWNLOAD THE PDF STATEMENT 

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JusticeLA Statement in response to Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s Targeted Harassment of Journalists and Families

For decades the community has voiced outrage at the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s (LASD) continued repression of the First Amendment rights of protesters and journalists. The department brutalized NPR reporter Josie Huang. Alex Villanueva personally threatened to arrest Spectrum News reporter Kate Cagle, and ran campaign ads targeting a private citizen to incite violence––using their face and name in accusations that he is a “paid activist Marxist.” Villanueva also ran a surrealist campaign ad calling LA Times publishers “white Marxist racists,” telling the paper to “#S@!% Your Endorsement,” ironically after he completed an endorsement interview where he accused LA County Inspector General Max Huntsman of being a holocaust denier.

This week, the LASD amped-up their targeting of journalists. At Villanueva’s own press conference, he threatened LA Times journalist Alene Tchekmedyian with a criminal investigation due to her coverage of a security video showing a deputy kneeling on the head of a handcuffed incarcerated person for three minutes. Villanueva stated that he had no knowledge of the video’s existence, but reporters at KnockLA refuted this claim.

Villanueva referred to Alene Tchekmedyan’s coverage as an “obstruction of justice.” In a response from the LA Times legal counsel, “You are on notice that if the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department attempts to search the property or data of Ms. Tchekmedyian or any other L.A. Times employee in this matter, the department will have directly violated the PPA and clearly established constitutional law and L.A. Times will seek every available remedy against you, the department, and every individual official involved in
any such unlawful conduct.”

These incidents are not isolated actions of one rogue officer; rather, they reflect a coordinated effort to publicly attack, physically harass, and in the worst cases murder residents who speak out against the department’s misconduct––the very constituents which the department has been allocated $3.6 billion dollars to protect and serve. Indeed, the way LASD and Sheriff Villanueva respond to vocal critics and reporters reveals a worrisome intention to delegitimize and forcefully silence any opposition to the department’s history of obstructing justice. LASD has a multi-million dollar public relations budget deployed to manipulate the narratives about the department’s actions — all paid by our tax dollars. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is closely examining their police department’s public relations budget and it is time for Los Angeles county to do the same.

LASD’s tactics of intimidation extend well beyond their public relations machine. There are 18 reported deputy gangs within the LASD and an investigative unit known for its targeting of public critics of the department. On an almost daily basis, LASD intimidates and harasses the families of those who have been killed by deputies. The county cannot continue to look away from this egregious, long-standing abuse of power. We call on the Board of Supervisors and County CEO to address the blatant lack of
intra-department accountability within LASD by significantly reducing their public relations budget in the 2022-2023 budget, and take any and all accountability measures within their power. Public funding should not be used to intimidate, harass, and threaten the lives of reporters and community members. County action to hold LASD accountable is long overdue.

DOWNLOAD THE PDF HERE

###

About the JusticeLA Coalition:
JusticeLA is a partnership of grassroots organizations, advocates, directly impacted communities, and
stakeholders to reduce the footprint of incarceration by stopping jail expansion and reclaiming,
reimagining and reinvesting dollars away from incarceration and into community-based systems of care

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News

JusticeLA Decries LA County Board of Supervisors’ Response to Community Demands to Close Men’s Central Jail

On March 30th, JusticeLA held a press conference and rally commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Men’s Central Jail Closure Report. Hundreds of community members gathered in front of Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration to demand a timeline for the closure of Men’s Central Jail, and tangible and significant investments in alternatives to incarceration. Echoing back the Board of Supervisors’ (BOS) own rhetoric of urgency, civil rights leaders, organizers, formerly incarcerated people and their families reminded the county of their promises and exposed their inaction.

In response to the press conference, the county and Supervisor Solis’ office issued a statement claiming they could not commit to a timeline for closure because it is, “crucial to proceed methodically to ensure support systems are firmly in place to ensure public safety [and] avoid worsening the homelessness crisis.” However, community and numerous county workgroups for years have called on the county to invest in specific numbers and types of support and residential mental health treatment beds that would decrease the jail population and facilitate closure. To date, the county has not acted methodically but instead negligently. By dragging their feet and proceeding without urgency, the BOS and CEO have effectively trapped people in jail because the county refuses to put support systems in place that would encourage releases from jail. 

The county’s statement is telling. The county would rather hide away its houselessness and mental health crises behind jail walls, continuing to torture our most vulnerable in a dilapidated jail where the County has been violating the constitutional rights of people with mental illness for more than 25 years, rather than expedite their release and risk exposing the breadth of these crises.

Read and download the full statement here (PDF).

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JusticeLA Demands Action On the Anniversary of the “Care First, Jails Last” Alternatives to Incarceration Report

Today marks two years since the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (BOS) adopted the foundational recommendations of the Alternatives to Incarceration Workgroup Final Report, a groundbreaking roadmap for decarceration and service expansion throughout the county. The model of the ATI Workgroup was unprecedented – not only in size and scope, but also in its inclusion of community decision-making power. Hundreds of community members were consulted and involved in the drafting of the report’s recommendations, including over 50 members of the JusticeLA coalition–several of whom were workgroup voting members and committee chairs. By adopting the foundational recommendations in the report, the BOS made a public commitment to invest county resources in developing a system based on care, not punishment. Two years later, we have not forgotten that promise and continue to hold the BOS to their commitment. 

This visionary partnership between county and community produced a groundbreaking document rigorously developed through a consensus-based model. Through this collaborative process, community members worked side by side with the county, proving that when the community is allowed a seat at the table, government is more creative, holistic, efficient and effective. At the time of the adoption of the recommendations, Eunisses Hernandez, Co-Founder of La Defensa and a voting member of the county’s ATI Workgroup, called the report “a practical, yet powerful and visionary set of recommendations for how we could begin building out a decentralized community based system of care and housing first and foremost.” She uplifted the coalition’s demand to “stop the mass incarceration of our most vulnerable and unsupported community members in LA County.” 

But our strong support was not without heavy concerns.

READ THE REST OF THE PRESS RELEASE HERE:

JusticeLA Demands Action On the Anniversary of the “Care First, Jails Last” Alternatives to Incarceration Report

 

 

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2022 ATI Report Card

Los Angeles County oversees the largest jail system in the world. In 2019, community organizers successfully moved the County to cancel plans to create two new jails. Instead of jail expansion, the county was compelled to create a workgroup dedicated to finding feasible and effective ways to move the County away from incarceration and towards a care-based approach to the criminal-legal process. 

This Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) workgroup, comprised of both county and community stakeholders,  developed 114 recommendations for the Alternatives To Incarceration Roadmap and Final Report. The Board of Supervisors adopted 26 core foundational recommendations and 5 overarching principles. These recommendations include a racial justice analysis and range from early prevention and intervention efforts to avoid arrest and incarceration, to robust pretrial release services, as well as expanding supportive housing, services and employment for individuals returning home from incarceration. 

It is now March 2022 and the tireless work of the community to reimagine what care and services can look like in our County has yet to be fully realized. Over the last several years, multiple county reports, including the Gender Responsive Advisory Committee 2021 Report and the Men’s Central Jail Closure Workgroup Report, have reaffirmed the recommendations of the ATI report and provided concrete plans for implementation and MCJ closure. 

The Board of Supervisors have the roadmap, the community support and the power to move money out of bloated law enforcement budgets and into critical community-based services now. To that end, we have created an ATI Report Card to evaluate the County’s progress of decarcerating, closing Men’s Central Jail, and investing in our communities!

ISSUE: Create an independent pretrial services system within 3-6 months.

Recommendation

What's Been Done

What's Needed

Recommendation

#58: Create diversion programs to release people with mental health needs to community-based treatment as early as possible.

What's Been Done

The County has not expanded existing mental health diversion programming or created new programming.

What's Needed

The County must fund and expand the Office of Diversion and Reentry’s current bed capacity.

GRADE: F

Recommendation

What's Been Done

What's Needed

Recommendation

#56: Releasing people with support should be the default rather than money bail or jail.

What's Been Done

In 2021, the County established the Pretrial Workgroup to create a plan to comply with the Humphrey court decision and implement the pretrial recommendations of the ATI report. The workgroup developed a needs and strengths assessment that may replace the CCAT Risk Assessment Tool, but the PSA Risk Assessment Tool will remain in place. The ATI Initiative is currently in negotiations with the court on changes to the current pretrial structure. A plan has yet to be agreed upon.

What's Needed

Creating the pretrial structure that utilizes community-based services, and fully funding and implementing those services, has not been completed by the County. The LA County Superior Court remains a roadblock to releasing people without money bail or any form of incarceration, including e-carceration (i.e. electronic monitoring). The County will need either the Courts agreement to expand $0 bail and pretrial release, or state legislative changes must pass to achieve that goal. The Court’s position has been that without proper service linkage, they will not expand releases without Probation involvement.

GRADE: F+

Recommendation

What's Been Done

What's Needed

Recommendation

#55: Create an independent pretrial services entity.

What's Been Done

The Board of Supervisors passed a motion on March 1, 2022 creating a Justice, Care and Opportunities Department (JCOD), which will house pretrial services independent of Probation.

What's Needed

Funding has yet to be committed by the CEO and BOS to the JCOD, pretrial agency infrastructure, and community-based services within the new department. The Vera Institute of Justice estimates that ~$100 million per year will be needed to fully fund pretrial services, based on current pretrial population levels.

GRADE: B

Recommendation

What's Been Done

What's Needed

Recommendation

#53: Support people upon release and help them return to court if needed.

What's Been Done

The Public Defender’s Office and Alternate Public Defender’s Office have created text message reminder platforms for their clients. These platforms do not provide any service linkage and have technical limitations, relying on manual updates. The ATI Initiative has begun the development of a bed navigation platform. The details of this project have yet to be publicly available to provide a full analysis of the user capabilities and its utility in pretrial service navigation.

What's Needed

The County’s service platforms are in the initial stages and lack the cohesive, streamlined approach necessary to provide the range of return to court services needed to properly meet the needs of the pretrial population.

GRADE: D

ISSUE: Overlapping

Recommendation

What's Been Done

What's Needed

Recommendation

#58: Remove eligibility barriers and delays in connecting incarcerated people (and people in the community) to community-based treatment so people are not stuck in jail just because there is not a program.

What's Been Done

Eligibility is less an issue – except that most programs have some “charge related” barriers to entry. The MAJOR challenge continues to be that there are not nearly enough appropriate and available community treatment placements.  And unfortunately, even though an individual may be released pending trial as a result of zero bail and other security mechanisms, without adequate community mental health resources, the return to jail is routine. Zero bail (which will end soon) has helped a lot of people get out that normally would not, despite the lack of a program. Some people not released on zero bail have an agreed upon release (the judge and often the prosecutor), to a program through diversion, RDP, and ODR programs. I think that the barrier to release was most improved by the emergency zero bail.

What's Needed

ATI Implementation Plan: Year 1

1a. Review criteria for admission to key levels of Mental Health care including but not limited to: Full Service Partnership (FSP), Enriched Residential Services (ERS), Outpatient, IMD, ODR Housing Program, Men’s Community Reintegration (MCRP), Women’s Community Reintegration Program (WCRP).

1b. Identify health agencies and behavioral health treatment facilities who are currently providing services to justice involved individuals and identify ways that they can expand or develop new contracts.

1c. Significantly increase funding to programs that will allow for providers to increase capacity and services.

1e. Optimize use of Medi-Cal funding and services.

1f. Determine the current population who encounters barriers to service linkage. (e.g. fire setters, people with unresolved cases, sex registrants, allegations of violence, funding exclusions, legal status, etc.), and explore existing or new resources including those that will safely serve those with high risk behaviors in the community.

1g. Expand and/or create new resources at all levels of care for people who are mentally ill or who have a co-occurring disorder, other health condition, etc.

1h. Review Data and rationale (or create a method to do so) on the average turnaround time on referrals to key levels of care.

1i. Review data on current wait times for slots, beds, and outpatient appointments. Determine which levels of care can potentially shorten turnaround times for referral/response, and placement, and update the current system.

1j. Collect data and rationale on the number of individuals who do not access treatment. Explore ways to further engage and link those who can benefit from treatment.

1k. Review and refine current clinical navigational programming pathways to treatment. Design user-friendly referral system to navigation teams.

1l. Enhance cross-communication between specialty courtrooms and county programs to allow navigation teams referral access. 1m. Create cross agency database to include outcome data to include both positive and negative outcomes, such as program completions, walk-aways, rearrests, etc.

1n. Create rapid referral and response by developing a system to look up whether or not justiceinvolved individuals have a behavioral health diagnosis or a medical diagnosis that could be causing behavioral health symptoms.

1o. Develop a 24-hour DHS/DMH/DPH hub that has an accurate and consistently updated database of providers including information about where there are beds and treatment slots available at all levels of care.

1p. Establish linkages to community based primary care to ensure continuity of care and avoid decompensation of biomedical and behavioral health.

GRADE: F

ISSUE: Mental Health Allocate $237m for 4,000 new community-based beds that drive releases.

Recommendation

What's Been Done

What's Needed

Recommendation

#02: Create places where people can immediately access trauma-informed care for people in crisis. Make sure they exist in all communities. 

What's Been Done

The Department of Mental Health has added two psychiatric urgent care centers in the last two years. The County has established a number of Restorative Care Villages: MLK Medical Center Campus, LAC+USC Medical Center, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. A fifth Restorative Care Village is being considered for the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Each is supposed to have a Crisis Intervention Team available.

What's Needed

ATI Implementation Plan: Year 1

1a. Review criteria for admission to key levels of Mental Health care including but not limited to: Full Service Partnership (FSP), Enriched Residential Services (ERS), Outpatient, IMD, ODR Housing Program, Men’s Community Reintegration (MCRP), Women’s Community Reintegration Program (WCRP).

1b. Identify health agencies and behavioral health treatment facilities who are currently providing services to justice involved individuals and identify ways that they can expand or develop new contracts.

1c. Significantly increase funding to programs that will allow for providers to increase capacity and services.

1e. Optimize use of Medi-Cal funding and services.

1f. Determine the current population who encounters barriers to service linkage. (e.g. fire setters, people with unresolved cases, sex registrants, allegations of violence, funding exclusions, legal status, etc.), and explore existing or new resources including those that will safely serve those with high risk behaviors in the community.

1g. Expand and/or create new resources at all levels of care for people who are mentally ill or who have a co-occurring disorder, other health condition, etc.

1h. Review Data and rationale (or create a method to do so) on the average turnaround time on referrals to key levels of care.

1i. Review data on current wait times for slots, beds, and outpatient appointments. Determine which levels of care can potentially shorten turnaround times for referral/response, and placement, and update the current system.

1j. Collect data and rationale on the number of individuals who do not access treatment. Explore ways to further engage and link those who can benefit from treatment.

1k. Review and refine current clinical navigational programming pathways to treatment. Design user-friendly referral system to navigation teams.

1l. Enhance cross-communication between specialty courtrooms and county programs to allow navigation teams referral access. 1m. Create cross agency database to include outcome data to include both positive and negative outcomes, such as program completions, walk-aways, rearrests, etc.

1n. Create rapid referral and response by developing a system to look up whether or not justiceinvolved individuals have a behavioral health diagnosis or a medical diagnosis that could be causing behavioral health symptoms.

1o. Develop a 24-hour DHS/DMH/DPH hub that has an accurate and consistently updated database of providers including information about where there are beds and treatment slots available at all levels of care.

1p. Establish linkages to community based primary care to ensure continuity of care and avoid decompensation of biomedical and behavioral health.

GRADE: D

Recommendation

What's Been Done

What's Needed

Recommendation

#12: Diversion programs should be rooted in harm reduction.

Support and broaden implementation of community-based harm reduction strategies for individuals with mental health, substance use disorders, and/or individuals who use alcohol/drugs, including but not limited to sustained prescribing of psychiatric medications and medication assisted treatment. 

What's Been Done

The Office of Diversion and Reentry’s Harm Reduction Unit has distributed 130,000 Naloxone kits since 1/20. Kits are available in jail vending machines each month and are free to people being released from jail. ODR has trained hundreds of providers in how to administer and provide Naloxone, and has set up Naloxone access points in underserved community areas like the Antelope Valley, North Hollywood, and Long Beach.

There are also In-custody first aid Naloxone kits available in some jail areas. 

Naloxone is available in all Project RoomKey sites and County housing providers. 

The Department of Health Services started (and will expand)  training in harm reduction – outreach teams that serve the unhoused, services and reentry support providers and case managers, and housing sites. The DHS initiative will  focus on harm reduction strategies like motivational interviewing, brief harm reduction moments.

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT): Since 2020, DHS launched LosAngelesMAT.org, launched the MAT Consultation Line, and expanded MAT access in DHS and in the community. Jail MAT started in 2020/21 although remains far less available than it needs to be, and transitions into the community remain problematic. DHS expanded primary care MAT clinics to include Rancho Los Amigos and more ACN Sites such as Roybal and High Desert. UCLA Harbor- Medical Center also joined USC and Olive View as having an inpatient MAT consult service.

What's Needed

The County needs to significantly scale up investment to meet the need for MAT and other harm reduction services. The County must invest in a continuum of care so that providers can hire people with lived experience and support their engagement and outreach efforts. 

The County needs to expand harm reduction training and the expansion needs to be a long-term commitment. For example, the County cannot start outreach for one year and then disappear.

We urgently need safe consumption sites

We urgently need mobile syringe exchange services, broader investment in fixed sites and spaces – We urgently need drug user health hubs and  drop-in centers. 

The County needs one centralized system for MAT coordination upon jail release. 

We urgently need a dedicated MAT reentry resource. The County needs more funding for addiction medicine physicians and more funding for learning collaboratives that can continue to expand MAT into the community.

GRADE: B/C

Recommendation

What's Been Done

What's Needed

Recommendation

#20: LA County must provide adequate community-based beds for people being released from jail who need housing to stabilize. 

What's Been Done

The ATI office is conducting community bed analysis but has not provided an update on its status. 

ODR has expanded to include more interim housing to serve 634 people, permanent supportive housing serving 545 people. ODR required to stay below cap of 2200 beds despite huge need for more. 

The County is not adequately tracking how many individuals are placed into treatment through the Rapid Diversion Program.

What's Needed

MCJ Closure Report recommended adding 4,000 community beds (3600 of which are mental health) in 18-24 months. CEO Executive Work Group recommended 10,000 in 3 years.

GRADE: F

Recommendation

What's Been Done

What's Needed

Recommendation

#59: Expand access to pre-plea mental health diversion. 

What's Been Done

Law enforcement agencies and local governments, residents and businesses throughout the county are desperate for alternatives to arrest when mental health is at issue. County has implemented the ATI Pre-Filing Diversion Program & ODR LEAD (pre-filing more focused on SUD), ATI Rapid Diversion Program, but not at every courthouse (RDP 2021=473 total cases-333 diverted others pending), report more than 700 as of 3/22. The County has yet to say how many individuals who are diverted actually make it  into treatment beds. Eligibility criteria is also restricted. 

 

-ODR pre-plea beds added since 1/20 = 630

What's Needed

Immediately begin implementation of ATI report recommendations #2, 35, 37, 38 and Alternative Crisis Response, INCLUDING sufficient funding for community-based treatment resources to serve as accessible and effective alternatives to arrest and jail.

Resource ODR sufficiently to accept any client who qualifies for pre-plea mental health diversion.

Get new pretrial services office up and running within 3 months. Funding has yet to be committed by the CEO and BOS to the JCOD, pretrial agency infrastructure, and community-based services within the new department.

Evaluate RDP – if found effective at long-term stabilization and reduced re-arrest, expand throughout county to meet the need.

GRADE: F

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Press Release: Victories for a Progressive Care First Vision Passed by LA BOS

LOS ANGELES, CA – Yesterday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion authored by Supervisor Sheila Keuhl establishing the Justice, Care, and Opportunities Department (JCOD) and the Department of Youth Development (DYD). This Board approved motion also establishes independent pretrial services under the new JCOD – a significant shift from the failed Probation led pretrial system that has driven LA County’s pretrial population to nearly 50% of the jail system. The creation of an independent pretrial services agency outside of the probation department is a demand that the community has been voicing for decades.

Noticeably absent from the motion was any funding commitment to support the establishment of the departments and the expansion of desperately needed services. The transformative potential of the JCOD and DYD will be more realized if the Board prioritizes funding these county departments in this year’s budget cycle. The community’s demands at Tuesday’s Board meeting were loud and clear—the Board must take swift action to allocate significant funding for JCOD and DYD and commit to closing Men’s Central Jail by March 2023.

READ THE FULL PRESS RELEASE HERE:

Victories for a Progressive Care First Vision Passed by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors: Next Step, A Fully-Funded Care First Budget

 

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Justice LA Statement on LA County’s Creation of a Jail Closure Implementation Team

The Justice LA coalition has championed and amplified the longstanding demand for the closure of Men’s Central Jail for years, and is fully committed to supporting the development of critical steps towards closing this deadly and expensive jail once and for all. Members of our coalition, volunteers, and community have given literally thousands of hours to the County in an effort to move towards a Care First reality. Through these partnerships, collaboration, and public access we have jointly created: 1) the Care First, Jails Last ATI Report, 2) Men’s Central Jail Closure Report, and 3) the Measure J year one spending plan. The process to develop those reports and recommendations was not easy, but these reports and recommendations speak for themselves. The county was right to support and facilitate a process that became a model for civic democracy and led to policy outcomes that became the envy of the country. These collaborations and partnerships have been transformative, and the results of our collective, transformational and collaborative work put the national spotlight on LA County for the right reasons. We shared with the County a thorough roadmap towards finally ending its horrific and shameful reliance on punishment and jails.

Now, we are frustrated to see the County continue to put process over outcomes. The only way to close a jail is to close it. Other jurisdictions have done this with far less resources and far less public support. MCJ should have been closed and demolished years ago, and yet, this motion sets no clear timeline for such a closure. The Men’s Central Jail Closure Report includes pathways and a 18-24 month timeline for how to reduce the jail population while increasing capacity for community-based services in order to close down MCJ and other jails. We are concerned that this new implementation process would cause additional delays and bureaucratic hurdles, when the Board has the power to direct the CEO to close MCJ now. The multitude of reports that the County has used to slow the process, including the Health Management Associates Report from six years ago, and the pending Jim Austin Report, are blockades to progress that have and continue to slow the vital process of releasing our loved ones from this life-threatening carceral facility. The slowing of jail closure due to bureaucracy and the prolonging of this process is painfully similar to prior efforts that not only failed to close MCJ, but that also eventually brought about plans to expand the jail system. Prior echoes of what is currently taking place brought about the necessity for the community to step up, and subsequently birthed JusticeLA. Instead of introducing more layers of bureaucracy to the MCJ Closure process, we must speed up the process with all of the ATI and Measure J Recommendations already in place.

The motion, as approved, cuts out the very drivers that brought us to this point. It is hard to understand the logic, and even harder to imagine that the motion will actually lead to the closure of MCJ in the timeline recommended in the MCJ Closure Report. We are concerned that the Jail Closure Implementation Team (JCIT) has no embedded community voices or accountability mechanisms despite the mandate to receive input from the community. It is imperative that community members who have been directly impacted by incarceration and criminalization are specifically included in this next phase of closure. Groups of directly impacted people already exist within the County’s infrastructure, and should be fully resourced. For example, the LA County Reentry Health Advisory Collaborative (RHAC) is composed of people directly impacted by incarceration, and its members can be helpful to the JCIT as they informed the Men’s Central Jail Closure work. If this process is to be successful the community needs to be at the table, and not an afterthought.

We believe it is unnecessary to create a whole new body that the community will not have access to. Instead, the Board should direct the existing Jail Population Review Council–which is composed of county departments and representatives from the community–to bottom-line MCJ’s closure, and, if necessary, to add in department representatives that are not currently a part of that group. County departments and the community know what to do and have been working on this together for years now.

We believe that the Men’s Central Jail closure process should not be centered around a strategy of attrition. No jail has ever been closed that way. Strategies of attrition place the most vulnerable in an even more unsafe holding pattern, as subjects for policy experimentation rather than as human beings who continue to be at risk for harm and death in an institution with two decades of data showing its harms. The mandate to close jails should not be dependent on whether a Sheriff’s department decides to change its arrest priorities or whether the department of Probation prioritizes technical violations, for example. It also should not be dependent on the courts and judges, who are not accountable to anyone but themselves. The Sheriff’s recent statement that houseless people are an “existential threat,” and his threats of mass arrest of the houseless population in Venice, despite the overwhelming evidence that LASD intervention has been harmful, grossly contradict the County’s ‘Care First, Jail Last’ plan. His behavior demonstrates that the LA County jail population is subject to the political agendas of various departments’ leadership.

The County must maintain diligence in funding the Men’s Central Jail Closure Plan and Measure J Year 1 Spending Recommendations. Black and Brown people make up most of the people in the LA County jail system. The County must thus invest in life-affirming interventions that reduce police contact and arrests of Black and Brown people, as well as scale up diversion efforts. Funding these priorities ensures that the historic steps taken towards jail closure will build lasting momentum towards a care first Los Angeles.

Our coalition is disappointed by the decision to create another process to figure out how to close MCJ. Today’s motion doesn’t bring us any closer to closing MCJ than we were 6 months ago. We know this Board has committed to closing down Men’s Central Jail; at this stage we need more than words, and frankly, a better plan. We need to see the Board make a commitment to continue to work with the community in a way that has already been proven effective. The Board must set a clear and rapid timeline to close down Men’s Central Jail with the continued involvement of community voices, and without creating more bureaucracy.

This statement is in response to the following Board Motion: 27. Jails Last: Creation of the Jail Closure Implementation Team

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Letter to BOS: County’s Responsibility To Hold Villanueva Accountable

Re: Villanueva Out Of Venice and the County’s Responsibility To Hold Him Accountable

June 17, 2021

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Hilda Solis       

Supervisor Holly Mitchell

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl

Supervisor Janice Hahn

Supervisor Kathryn Barger

 


Via E-Mail

Re: Villanueva Out Of Venice and the County’s Responsibility To Hold Him Accountable

To the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors 

This Countywide coalition, composed of over 100 organizations and leaders in housing justice, criminal justice advocacy, decriminalization of poverty, and civil liberties, is adamantly opposed to the presence of Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his department on the Venice Boardwalk. The Sheriff’s department is overstepping the County’s jurisdiction and causing imminent harm to the most vulnerable residents of the City of Los Angeles. This is an extraordinary misuse of County resources and is directly contrary to the County’s Decriminalization Policy, which mandates the decriminalization of homelessness. We urge the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (Board) to fully exercise its budgetary authority by removing funding from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s (LASD) Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST) program and to do all in its power to stop the Sheriff’s plans for mass forced displacement and criminalization of Venice Boardwalk residents.

Villanueva has unilaterally involved the County of Los Angeles in the criminalization of homelessness within the City of Los Angeles and made the Venice Boardwalk his target. He has done so without coordination or approval from other leaders, including City elected officials, the Board, homeless service organizations, and community-based service providers.  The sheriff has no experience in addressing houselessness or connection to the systems that are in place to support people in exiting houselessness.  Not only does Villanueva lack the necessary expertise, he continuously promotes stereotypes, myths, and misinformation, such as recklessly attributing the homicide rate to the presence of homeless encampments and villainizing the unhoused community for “destroying our economy and way of life.” Villanueava’s presence and approach to the houselessness crisis is not about addressing root causes; rather, it is about upholding the continued effort to criminalize poverty in Los Angeles. This is confirmed by the revelation that the Sheriff coordinated with the Los Angeles Police Department to set aside 2,000 custody beds that can be used as a 48-hour hold for when unhoused residents are deemed “non-compliant.” It can be assumed that given the scarcity of housing resources, especially in permanent housing, and the fact that the Sheriff has no ongoing connection with the County’s housing system, that over 200 residents could be incarcerated. Criminalization and forced displacement have been proven to be failed policies that perpetuate and reinforce inequities across our communities. Pete White, executive director of LACAN, states:

Sheriff Villanueva’s incursion into the housing crisis should not be a shock nor a surprise.  However, his political stunt will have a lasting effect on those looking for a reason to banish poor and houseless people from communities they call home.  The sheriff’s actions makes criminals out of those simply too poor to afford housing or that have been systemically locked out of opportunities.  He assists in building a narrative that favors expensive carceral shelters over permanent housing, leaving those currently without housing little hope in securing a place to call their own.”

For decades, LASD has been rife with corruption, abuse of power, and impunity.  LASD shootings and killings increased under Sheriff Villanueva, including a 45 percent increase in shootings in 2020 compared to 2018.  According to a recent Loyola Law School report, these increased shootings and killings have a strong connection with the crisis of deputy gangs–which Villanueva has actively enabled and exacerbated.  For example, analyzing LASD shootings in the five years between November 2015 and November 2020, the report found a strong correlation between the number of shootings committed by deputies of a station and the existence of deputy gangs at that station, “buttress[ing] the conclusion that deputy gangs escalate uses of force.”  Since the murder of George Floyd, LASD has killed at least 18 community members, all but two individuals Black and Latinx folks in South L.A., East L.A., and the Antelope Valley–areas with LASD stations that are riddled with deputy gangs.

We must address the Sheriff’s presence in Venice seriously and urgently.  Villanueva has consistently resisted and obstructed the systems of checks and balances designed to provide oversight and supervision of LASD.  It is clear that the sheriff’s focus on targeting unhoused people in Venice is in great part an effort to distract from ongoing scandals including deputy gangs, his abuse of power and violations of the law, LASD’s  harassment of families of community members deputies have killed, and LASD’s coverup of the murder of Andres Guardado. Ivette Ale, Senior Policy Lead with Dignity and Power Now states: 

“Despite the Sheriff’s murder of Black and Brown people, his corruption, misogynist attacks on our only Latina Board member, slandering of the county’s Chief Executive Officer, doxing and violent attacks on protestors and the media, and escalating displacement of our most vulnerable residents in Venice, his budget remains untouched. The Sheriff’s Department’s budget is over $3 billion — billions that should be used to house and care for our residents. This budget does not reflect our values, does not reflect the Board’s care first vision, and enables a rogue Sheriff and a historically murderous department. The Board of Supervisors has the power to hold Sheriff Villanueva and his department accountable through the budget. The community has stood behind the Board’s efforts for accountability and will continue to stand behind them if and when they take action to disarm Villanueva through the budget.”

 We are calling on the Board to take action by removing funding from LASD’s HOST program.  The Board has the ability to hold Sheriff Villanueva accountable and to ensure he does not overstep the County’s jurisdiction through the control of the Sheriff’s budget.  LASD has never been nor will they ever be equipped or have the responsibility to deliver services ensuring the health and welfare of LA’s unhoused community. And they have absolutely no role in doing so within the borders of the City of Los Angeles. Continuing to fund programs like HOST, which the Sheriff is using to justify the targeting of the City’s most vulnerable residents, only serves to empower a failed department while depleting precious resources that should be reinvested in funding community-based services, which are the real experts and are more cost-effective. Instead, it is critical that Los Angeles County provides relief to the 50,000 unsheltered Angelenos.

CheckTheSheriff.com

JusticeLANow.org

ServicesNotSweeps.com

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Statement: Humphrey Ruling Represents Momentous Shift in Legal Rules around Pretrial Detention and Bail

Humphrey Ruling Represents Momentous Shift in Legal Rules around Pretrial Detention and Bail

Now, we need legislative changes that honor the presumption of innocence by limiting judges’ ability to incarcerate people pretrial.

Los Angeles, CA – March 26, 2021 – In the case In re Humphrey, the California Supreme Court found yesterday that judges in the state violate the US Constitution by setting unaffordable bail amounts that keep people in pretrial custody on mere accusations. In a unanimous vote, they ordered judges to release people with non-financial conditions if possible and to only set bail in affordable amounts after determining a person’s ability to pay. This ruling represents a momentous shift in the legal rules around pretrial detention and bail.

The Court acknowledged many well-documented harms of pretrial detention: it punishes people presumed to be innocent without them having been convicted; it costs taxpayers greatly; it causes people to lose jobs, homes, healthcare, connection to family. Strangely absent from the Court’s list of harms was that pretrial detention coerces people to plead guilty regardless of actual guilt because prosecutors and judges offer freedom in exchange for guilty pleas.

While the Court ordered changes to how money bail can be set, they did not address the bigger question of when judges may simply detain people without setting bail. They said that a judge may detain a person pretrial without setting bail if the judge finds that person is a risk to “public safety” or a risk of fleeing to avoid prosecution, but they did not say whether that power applied to all accused people or just those accused of certain crimes.

Judges, who have traditionally used money bail to hold people in custody pretrial, have argued that they can simply order anyone detained without even setting bail. The Humphrey decision avoided setting limits on who judges can “preventively detain,” deferring that decision for another day. Similarly, the Humphrey decision did not detail what procedures are required for a judge to decide whether to detain someone, leaving an accused person’s right to due process in doubt.

Given how judges have used pretrial detention through money bail as a tool to efficiently coerce guilty pleas, the Humphrey decision leaves us concerned that judges will simply adjust by ordering preventive detention instead.

The decision underscores the need for legislative changes that honor and preserve the presumption of innocence by limiting judges’ ability to incarcerate people pretrial. Legislation should set up legal standards and procedures that guarantee due process and fair hearings. It should prevent judges from imposing burdensome release conditions, like electronic monitoring and drug testing, that set people up for re-incarceration. It should establish pretrial services agencies, independent of law enforcement, that help people get to court while ensuring safety for all people involved. JusticeLA and the Care First California coalition will soon be releasing a legislative proposal that does these things.

Meanwhile, Sen. Hertzberg’s bill, SB 262, which sets $0 bail for most offenses at arrest and booking, is a start to fixing some of the reform needs highlighted by the Humphrey decision, particularly if that bill is amended to, among other things, better define the ability to pay determination and to limit judges’ ability to subsequently detain people.

The California Supreme Court has made a powerful statement, condemning the use of money bail to detain poor people pretrial as an unconstitutional use of power. However, they have left open too many ways for judges to continue to treat people unfairly and use pretrial detention against them. We must take the next steps and legislate limits that make the criminal legal system fairer and that honor and preserve the presumption of innocence.

 

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Statement: LASD needs to fund tech for remote access to court proceedings

JusticeLA urges the immediate release of our community members incarcerated pretrial; urges LASD to fund and expand technology for remote access to pandemic  court proceedings from their existing budget

At the close of January 2021, LA County presiding Judge Eric C. Taylor, of the Superior Court of California, issued a new General Order. The order authorizes judicial emergency continuances for Criminal and Juvenile Dependency court cases. The Judge stated that he made this order based on the high number of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County. This order will extend the length of time that our incarcerated community members are held pretrial in both adult and youth jails across the County. Activists, community members, public defenders, organizers, legal scholars and policy experts are all horrified.

Despite the clarion calls of community, and the research proving the deadly impacts of COVID-19 in the jails, the Presiding Judge has issued an order that increases the deadliness of COVID for our incarcerated loved ones.

Eunisses Hernandez, Co-founder and Executive Director of La Defensa, highlights the urgency of opposing this order from the presiding Judge. She says, “Judge Taylor’s order shows blatant disregard for our community members’ humanity. This disregard runs throughout the entire criminal legal system. Judge Taylor is acting without considering the detrimental impact of COVID-19 on our incarcerated loved ones. The Judge is out of step with the Measure J voter-mandate to invest in care rather than punishment. He is also out of step with the LA County Board of Supervisors’ commitment to a care-first vision. The Courts must course-correct and prioritize the health and safety of our community members.”

The lived experience and testimony of our community members shows just how negligent and harmful the conditions created by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department inside the jails are. Rojas, LA Organizer with Young Women’s Freedom Center, shares the way that pretrial incarceration has harmed them, saying, “When I was incarcerated in the County jail pretrial, I had to bunk up with someone with asthma & breast cancer. It was so dangerous to have people with serious health concerns in cells with multiple people during the pandemic. LASD didn’t show any regard for our risk of getting COVID-19. They also gave out masks that were extremely poor quality — the masks were made out of ripped sheets, and didn’t prevent the spread of viruses. I was supposed to have Court in seventy-two hours, but I had to wait five extra days. I was kept in for eight days total. I had no charges but because of my parole they left me in there.” Rojas’ experience shows LASD’s irresponsible holding of our community members for prolonged periods, endangering their lives.

Rojas continues, “I had a different bunkie each day, and they never separated anyone for COVID-safety in the holding tanks. They even put me in a cell with no water.” Rojas’ experience is not isolated: countless members of our communities have reported conditions of abuse and the stark impossibility of social distancing in the County jails.

The JusticeLA Coalition has long been fighting against pretrial incarceration, taking a strong stance against the use of risk assessments that increase the length and severity of pretrial detention. JusticeLA has partnered with others in coalition to author policy that will preserve the presumption of innocence for our community members who are charged with, but not convicted of, a crime. We are working to preserve the presumption of innocence and ensure the pretrial release of our community members through an LA County pilot program, as well as through statewide policy advocacy.

Titilayo Rasaki, Policy Associate at Essie Justice Group, who leads pretrial justice policy work, shares, “It is essential that we don’t cause further harm to our community members by exposing them to COVID-19 while they are waiting for their court hearings. It is immoral that the LA County Presiding Judge Taylor wants to extend our loved ones’ pretrial incarceration. The harm caused by this decision extends out to the disportionately Black women with incarcerated loved ones. Families and communities are fighting to free their loved ones while struggling to keep families financially afloat, and tend to the weighty mental health burdens of children with incarcerated parents. It is inconceivable that the Presiding Judge is standing in the way of the safety, health and human rights of our loved ones, and blocking their release. ”

In addition to the urgent need for pretrial release, the JusticeLA Coalition calls for video conferencing technology to be used temporarily during the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during Court proceedings. LASD has failed to provide appropriate conditions to socially distance in Los Angeles County jails; as a result, our community members  are forced to quarantine, leading to them missing their court cases.  Video conferencing technology will move along court cases that were previously on hold due to the need to quarantine in jails. We are clear that the funding for this video technology should come out of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s (LASD’s) existing budget, rather than be another reason why LASD advocates to extract more of our community’s tax dollars. We note that Progressive District Attorneys have called for these video conferencing capabilities. In addition, we note that if our loved ones were allowed to come home to handle their Court case from their home community, instead of being detained pretrial, the Sheriff’s Department would not need to pay for video conferencing in the first place.

COVID-19 had already extended the average length of pretrial incarceration for our loved ones by many months. The presiding Judge’s new order will extend the length of time our loved ones are incarcerated for by even longer. Research from the UCLA Bail Practicum has shown how dangerous and harmful the extended stays of our community members in pretrial detention are. In December 2020, the UCLA Bail Practicum released a report, “Counting the Days: The Story of Prolonged Detention During COVID-19,” that highlighted the deadly impacts of prolonging pretrial detention in the LA County jails. 

Alicia Virani, Director of the Criminal Justice Program at UCLA School of Law and a former public defender, says, “It is disturbing to see the Presiding Judge of LA County ignoring the will of the people and the scientific data that shows how our already-most-vulnerable community members are being exposed to the threats of COVID-19 at heightening risk levels because of prolonged pretrial incarceration. With this new order from the Presiding Judge, we are moving in a direction that is diametrically opposed to the health and safety of our loved ones. The County needs to devise procedures to release people instead of continuing to increase arrests and delay court dates, which has led to an unacceptable backlog of criminal cases. Releases are the only effective way to keep incarcerated people and court staff safe, and to protect people’s constitutional rights.”

Other JusticeLA Coalition members share Virani’s concern. Rebecca Brown, Legal Fellow from Court Watch LA, underscores the urgent need to release people back into our communities, saying, “The Los Angeles Superior Court, as well as the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, have a number of strategies available to them to make the superior courts safer. We implore those offices to urgently implement the use of strategies that will not result in longer periods of pretrial incarceration for our community members.”

Brown continues, “The court and prosecutors need to reconsider what cases are being filed and heard at this time.  Forcing people into court for traffic infractions or low-level misdemeanor offenses is contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in the courts, while continuing to criminalize poverty in the midst of the pandemic. And, over 445 court employees have tested positive for COVID-19, showing risks across all parts of the system. The solution to this crisis is not incarcerating people for indefinite periods of time, but a meaningful re-evaluation of Los Angeles’s criminal legal system.” Brown raises the critical point that, for something as insignificant as a traffic ticket, our community members are being forced into incarceration. This explicit criminalization of poverty, which can lead our most vulnerable to COVID-19  exposure, is deeply unjust. None of our community members should risk exposure to COVID-19 due to pretrial detention. Presiding Judge Taylor’s order must be rescinded, and the Courts must speed the progress of slowed cases with temporary access to video conferencing technology. Ultimately, we must release our loved ones so that they can return home.

 

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Statement to DDA: Voters Support Progressive DA Policies

JUSTICE LA To Deputy District Attorneys:
Voters supported progressive changes, don’t stand in the way

A coalition of countless families and organizations working to reduce the footprint of incarceration condemn the Association of Deputy District Attorneys’ refusal to enact the demands of the people

LOS ANGELES – The Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) has a hearing today about their motion for a preliminary injunction on Gascón’s directives to stop filing sentencing enhancements. It will be up to the judge today whether or not the Deputy Attorneys who disagree with Gascón have the right to ignore the directives.

Justice LA, since its founding, has successfully stopped LA County’s $3.5 billion jail expansion plan and led the development of LA County’s Alternatives to Incarceration Workgroup report, not for the sake of combatting one specific elected leader or body but to prioritize the voices of millions of Angelinos across the county. “Our coalition partners have been on the ground for decades picking up the pieces of the impact of mass incarceration, and healing our communities. This move by the DA deputies is not surprising, but ridiculous given the number of people who now believe that our justice system needs fixing. Voters overwhelmingly support a transformation of our local injustice system as highlighted by Gascón’s win,” says Anthony Robles, Community Organizer at the Youth Justice Coalition.

These actions from the ADDA are repulsive because they ignore the years-long will of the people of both California and Los Angeles County. “The Deputies Union supported Prop 20, and has continued to lie to both their members and the general public about what criminal justice reforms do. Prop 20 was defeated last year, and Prop 47 passed in 2014 because more and more people are starting to see that harsher sentences and more policing does not help our communities,” said Eunisses Hernandez, Founder & Executive Director of La Defensa.

The law enforcement and police lobby have no place in meddling with what California voters ultimately decide. While “tough-on-crime” policies were passed due to national and statewide dog whistles about Black and brown people, important shifts are happening across the state to enact needed changes to heal our communities. For decades, organizations like Justice LA have been listening to and working with families directly impacted by gun violence and mass incarceration, and have empowered these families to tell leaders how they want to see policies and practices change. The ACLU of Southern California’s Criminal Justice Director, Summer Lacey, notes that “The Association of Deputy District Attorneys is out of touch with what the people of Los Angeles truly want – change. The community voted for a justice system that works for the people, not for special interests.”

Ivette Alé, Senior Policy Lead for Dignity and Power Now, adds, “Our communities have long advocated for transformation rather than harsh punishment. The Deputy District Attorney’s Association is using scare tactics to maintain this failed system at the expense or our communities. This is unjust, and will not keep our communities safer.”

Brian Kaneda, Deputy Director of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, says, “CURB strongly supports the progressive reforms that voters demanded when they elected LA District Attorney Gascon. The “tough on crime” opposition to these new policies from judges and the ADDA is obscenely anti-democratic and defies the will of the people.

“Their pushback against ending sentence enhancements is particularly egregious. Sentence enhancements are blunt, racist tools of mass incarceration that have not been proven to increase public safety. Gang enhancements, for instance, have criminalized entire cultures and families. Retroactively repealing all sentence enhancements would be a major step toward ending mass incarceration in LA County. Anyone opposed to that must be deeply invested in a culture of perpetual punishment.”

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Justice LA Urges Legislators: Support Comprehensive ATI Legislation

Justice LA Calls Hertzberg, Skinner, Bonta Bail Legislation a Next Step and Urges Legislators to Support Comprehensive ATI Legislation to Invest in Care, Not Cages

Yesterday, January 27th, 2020, California State Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), and Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) announced in a release that they have, “introduced joint legislation on Wednesday designed to reform the state’s money bail system, and to address the disproportionate impacts on low-income and low-wealth residents.”

Within the Justice LA Coalition, a Los Angeles-based abolitionist coalition of organizations fighting for a decarceration and a care-first vision, the demand for $0 bail has been strong long before this legislative cycle. Through the Justice LA Virtual Action, the Coalition has applied consistent pressure to the California Judicial Council demanding that the Council enact statewide $0 bail, as well as mobilized voters to reject Prop 25, the referendum on deeply harmful SB10. Prop 25 was rejected by voters because they wanted authentic pretrial reform, and wanted genuine progressive changes, not steps backwards.

Lex Steppling, Director of Campaigns and Policy at Dignity and Power Now and Co-Chairperson of the Committee Against Pretrial Racism says, “Grassroots and community power and opposition to Prop 25 made this legislative move possible. The legislature was moved to follow suit in response to a new political climate brought about by the popular mandate for progressive reforms that are rooted in genuine community demands, and not political compromise for compromise’s sake. This new legislation represents a potential step forward, in which we all get to be aligned, and is happening because of the defeat of Prop 25 and it’s massive popular support, not in spite of it.”

What’s more, the Justice LA Coalition points out that, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,  after experiencing intense pressure from community organizers, the Judicial Council instituted a temporary $0 bail order to stem the spread of COVID-19 in jails.  As a result of our fighting for it, we have already experienced a California statewide $0 bail order for those charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent offenses. We didn’t see an increase in crime follow. Instead, people were able to return home to their communities to prepare for their case without experiencing the harms of pretrial detention. This proposed legislation is thus an extension of what we have already seen to be successful in practice, as well as what we know promotes the basic human rights and presumption of innocence of all of our community members. The legislation proposed also requires bail bonds companies to refund bail to all people who make all of their court appearances who are not eligible for $0 bail under the legislation. Justice LA acknowledges this legislation as a first step.

  We think it critical to highlight the instrumental role that grassroots power and organizing has played in setting the conditions so that legislators could put this legislation forward in the state’s capitol.  Ivette Ale, Senior Policy Lead with Dignity and Power Now, says, “Los Angeles County handed the state the No On 25 victory. The organizing of Justice LA and the Committee Against Pretrial Racism delivered a progressive flank of LA County voters who understood that replacing one bad pretrial system with another was not the answer. We demanded more. Real pretrial reform is now possible because we did not dilute our demands.”

Disturbingly, the bail bonds industry fallaciously claimed “No On 25” as a victory. Yet, we knew that instating risk assessments through Prop 25 would have been far more damaging to our communities due to the power the Prop would have bestowed on judges and probation. Instead, voters choosing No on 25 was a  victory for human rights and for our communities; this victory was based on people power and strong grassroots base building.

Justice LA has long fought to preserve the presumption of innocence for people charged but not convicted of a crime; seeing legislators, like Assemblymember Bonta, adopt language about preserving that presumption indicates that they are understanding why our communities need comprehensive pretrial reform. 

People who are experiencing initial court proceedings are legally innocent; they have been accused, not convicted, and thus, they don’t need restrictive conditions of supervision just to make it back to court. Rather than providing disproportionate amounts of funding to probation to surveil and monitor our community members, which harms our communities in the same ways that other arms of law enforcement do, we urge the legislature to move legislation that funds alternatives to incarceration and pretrial services separate from probation. We will be working towards alternatives to incarceration legislation in partnership with those that believe in a care first, jails never vision. Dolores Canales, Community Outreach Director at The Bail Project, Co-Chairperson of the Committee Against Pretrial Racism says, “This is a good first step towards eliminating cash bail. We look forward to building on this towards legislation that addresses the larger issues of incarceration before trial and racial disparities. At the end of the day, addressing cash bail is only one piece of the puzzle. The legislature should also advance cite-and-release legislation and prioritize funding for community-based services over probation.”

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Justice LA Statement on LA County’s COVID Surge & Pretrial Incarceration

Justice LA Coalition members, and the Coalition as a whole, have spoken loud and clear since the inception of COVID-19 about the necessity of releasing people from carceral facilities in the County of Los Angeles due to the heightened risk of infection and death presented by COVID-19 for incarcerated people. As Justice LA and many public health and social justice leaders have cited since the beginning of the pandemic, people incarcerated in jails have no ability to socially distance due to the confined conditions people are held in. 

On March 27th, 2020, Justice LA released a letter imploring the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to take immediate, bold, and sustained action to release people who are being held pretrial in the Los Angeles County Jail. We reminded the Board that people being held pretrial are legally innocent.

In the months since the COVID-19 pandemic began to rage, Justice LA and its members have continued to fight for comprehensive pretrial reform at the California state level, as well as at the county level. This work has meant blocking racist, classist risk assessments that lead to increased pretrial incarceration, and instead, advocating for comprehensive pretrial reform that would ensure the presumption of innocence.

In addition, Justice LA invested fully in the Measure J effort at the LA County level, winning the campaign to direct at minimum 10% of the County’s unrestricted funds out of law enforcement and into alternatives to incarceration and systems of coordinated care. The dollars that we won to be re-allocated must be used to fund community-based services, including funding comprehensive County-wide pretrial services that are housed outside of the Los Angeles County Probation Department.

With the inauguration of newly-minted Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón,  Justice LA released a statement encouraging Gascón to advocate for comprehensive pretrial reform that would lead to releasing as many people incarcerated pretrial as possible. Instead of pretrial incarceration, we advocate for providing our people with support for behavioral health needs, support in their cases, and access to services that are not tied to Probation.

As COVID-19 surges across the County, with +13,652 news cases being reported countywide just yesterday, and ICU beds at 0% capacity, Justice LA again reiterates our demand to release people who are being held pretrial in the County of Los Angeles. There are no medical resources available to treat people impacted by this deadly wave of COVID: the need to safely release people is urgent. In the jails, the situation is even more dire. The UCLA Law COVID Behind Bars data project reflects a rapid upswing over the last month in the number of people infected with COVID-19 while incarcerated. 

Underscoring the importance of releasing as many people as possible to preserve human rights and community safety, the UCLA School of Law’s Bail Practicum has just penned a new report, titled “Counting the Days: The Story of Prolonged Detention During COVID-19.”

Using declarations from numerous community members who are incarcerated in LA County jails pretrial, and analyzing County data, the report shows that our community members are being incarcerated pretrial for longer periods during COVID-19 than they were prior to COVID-19.

The UCLA report states, “Hundreds, if not thousands of people, considered legally innocent, find their access to the courts and counsel, two of the most important rights in our criminal legal system, cut off. People are missing court hearings and experiencing lengthy trial delays, all while being exposed for increasingly longer periods of time in the jails, considered some of the deadliest congregate living settings in the country.”

In a press release accompanying the report, UCLA’s Bail Practicum shared critical data about these jumps in the length of pretrial incarceration, saying: “People incarcerated in Los Angeles County jails pretrial are being held for longer periods of time during the COVID-19 pandemic than prior to the pandemic. While 35% of the pretrial population in January had been in custody for six months or longer, in September it jumped to 41%.” This report data shows us that, rather than decarcerating, as public health experts call us to do during the pandemic, the County is holding people longer pretrial, thus violating their right to a speedy trial, and harming community safety by furthering conditions that increase the spread of COVID.

Even though the County is aware of the grave risk people incarcerated in the jails face during COVID-19, many County actors have exacerbated this crisis rather than take every action to protect people who they have a duty to serve. Litigation that was filed in April against the County by Justice LA member organizations like Dignity and Power Now and Youth Justice Coalition, as well as by Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, has not led to any decrease in the jail population; in fact, the LA County Sheriff’s Department continues to book increasingly more people into custody during this dangerous time. Recently, a judge ordered San Quentin to be depopulated by 50%

Similarly, in a powerful litigation victory led by ACLU of Southern California, a judge ordered a 50% depopulation of Orange County as well. These judgments were based on public health experts’ opinions. Experts know that without these reductions in jail populations, community members’ lives are at risk. Lex Steppling, Director of Campaigns and Policy at Dignity and Power Now, remarks of the situation: “LA County cannot continue to let people die and risk more and more lives in service of political inertia.”

Los Angeles County can take action now, without a judge’s order, to reduce the jail population. The County managed to reduce jail populations by over five thousand people at the beginning of the pandemic, and they must do it once again.

 Alicia Virani, professor in the Bail Practicum at the UCLA School of Law, says, “What is most imperative at this moment in time, amidst the surge in COVID-19 rates, is that people are safely released into the community, are tested prior to being released to prevent community spread, and that in-custody trials are prioritized and safely carried out.”

We must follow the advice of public health experts and community leaders to ensure the safety of our incarcerated loved ones by moving to safely release people being held pretrial.

Read the UCLA report here:  http://bit.ly/CountingtheDays

Sign up for Justice LA’s e-blasts to take action with us, here.

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It’s Time to Fully Reimagine The LA DA’s Office

LOS ANGELES – We congratulate Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón for beginning his tenure with sweeping changes that seek to redress harms of law enforcement and incarceration on impacted communities.  JusticeLA will remain vigilant regarding accountability in the implementation of these transformative policies. We must be clear that the newly-instated LA DA Gascón’s first policy platform did not emerge without strategic organizing and continued community pressure.

On his first day, LA District Attorney George Gascón has committed his office to do the following:

  • End the charging of youth as adults
  • End cooperation requirements for survivors
  • Extend Victim (Survivor) Services to families of those killed by law enforcement
  • Review officer-involved use of force and officer-involved shootings and re-open cases dating back to 2012
  • Ended the practice of Deputy District Attorneys requesting cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felony offenses by January 1, 2021
  • End the practice of filing gang enhancements, 5 year and 3 year prior enhancements and three strikes enhancements 
  • Re-evaluating and re-sententencing thousands of cases including all those who have served more than 20 years in prison, those with sentence enhancements, those who are at high  risk of COVID-19, and those tried as adults when charged during childhood 
  • End the pursuit of the death penalty 

Justice LA celebrates these necessary steps towards reducing the harms of mass incarceration, police violence and draconian punishments to our communities. While we look forward to seeing the implementation of Gascón’s Day One commitments, we also have additional recommendations for the District Attorney’s office:

Alternatives to Incarceration

Over the last year and a half, the Justice LA Coalition has provided leadership and abolitionist analysis as a part of the Alternatives to Incarceration Workgroup. On March 10th, the County Board of Supervisors made history by moving the Care First, Jails Last Alternatives to Incarceration Workgroup (ATI) Final Report forward, and making the vision of investing in care first a priority in Los Angeles County. In November, 57% of Los Angeles County voters passed Measure J, the Reimagine LA initiative which will invest additional resources into alternatives to incarceration and community-based systems of care while divesting from systems of harm. It is important that the Gascón LA District Attorney’s office acknowledge this recent history and support its implementation by reducing the size and scope of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. 

The DA must work with the community to establish an accountable LA County DA’s Office, and work to shift the culture within the office so that community-focused rehabilitative and restorative outcomes are prioritized over guilty verdicts and carceral sentences.

Ending Cash bail is not simple

While we applaud the policy of substantially limiting requests for imposition of money bail, it is critical that the alternative will not be risk assessment tools and surveillance, and that the office considers the full collateral consequences of a charge in our communities. 

We demand that LA DA Gascón establish a policy and practice that Deputy District Attorneys will not request incarceration for people who violate conditions of pretrial release.

What’s more: LA DA Gascón shared that he will establish a policy and practice that Deputy District Attorneys will consider immigration, housing, employment, health, and other consequences to people accused of crimes when requesting pretrial incarceration. It is vital that this commitment is fully actualized, and that the office will seek to ensure the least restrictive conditions of release instead of relying on pretrial incarceration.

In addition, LA DA Gascón must establish a policy of transparency whereby his office publicly and regularly reports on the DA’s requests for preventive detention and corresponding data so that the public can ensure that preventive detention is not being used in a discriminatory manner to lock more people up.

Finally, the County must establish an independent pretrial services entity, separate from the Probation Department, wherein County residents can access pretrial services with funding reallocated out of law enforcement. LA DA Gascón’s public commitment to preserve the presumption of innocence must include advocating for a reduction in judicial discretion and shifting funding and power out of Probation. 

Prioritizing the Care of Survivors/Victims of Violence 

While we appreciate the commitment to ending cooperation requirements for people the criminal legal system terms victims, who our movements know are survivors, we must prioritize other forms of care as well.

We commend  DA Gascón for establishing a new policy whereby survivors of police abuse and their families are afforded the same benefits that “crime victims” are meant to receive, including facilitating access to the Victim Compensation Board for families who have lost loved ones due to law enforcement use of lethal force. We will continue to watch to ensure that these supports are provided in practice. Importantly, support for survivors must be housed independently from the District Attorney’s office, rather than within the office, as the county Office of Family Assistance and Communication, which is tasked with supporting families and survivors of Sheriff violence, sits outside of the Sheriff’s Department. This will provide survivors with both a safe haven through which to seek support separate from law enforcement agencies, as well as contribute to the reduction of the District Attorney’s Office’s budget. Both of these shifts are widely supported in the County as a part of the shift from our culture of punishment to one of support that voters have endorsed with the passage of Measure’s R and J during our two recent electoral cycles.

In addition to supporting survivors of law enforcement violence and murder, DA Gascón must ensure fair and impartial investigations into instances of police brutality, misconduct, and lethal force. We are pleased that he will open a Use of Force Review Board supported by civil rights attorneys and community members to review police use of force in numerous cases since 2012. We hope that this Board will fulfill its stated mission of recommending the re-opening of cases where law enforcement officers previously commited egregious acts of harm and murder with impunity. Critically, this Review Board must be separate from the District Attorney’s Office, as numerous community and advocacy voices have emphasized, and the cases that the Review Board recommends for re-opening must be reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office with a commitment to the full support of community members whose loved ones have been stolen by law enforcement murder.

End the Lifetime of Consequences for People

The collateral consequences of an arrest, a conviction, imprisonment, and supervision have devastated communities and created further harm and violence through myriad forms of inequality and oppression due to race, citizenship status, income, gender, and disability. 

LA DA Gascón must establish a policy that ends the saddling of Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities with fines, fees, penalties, assessments, and surcharges collected through the criminal legal system.

Criminal fines and fees place cascading burdens on individuals in the system and their families, entangling them in a spiral of debt and additional court appearances, and placing obstacles in the way of people striving to move forward with their lives. Earlier this year the Board voted to end the imposition and collection of county authorized criminal system fees and erase all past debt. New Board member Holly Mitchell also championed statewide legislation this year that mirrors the LA County policy, which goes into effect in 2021. The District Attorney’s Office must rein in harmful fines and fees practices and support potential state legislation that seeks to eliminate all criminal administrative fees. 

Establish the District Attorney Office as a Protector of the Rights of the Immigrant Community

Prosecutors are the gatekeepers to the criminal legal system-to-deportation pipeline. Under current federal immigration law and practices, any conviction—even an infraction—can trigger immigration consequences. Even an arrest or criminal charge, whether or not there is a resulting conviction, will often create negative immigration consequences or expose noncitizens to deportation. 

The LA DA should exercise its prosecutorial discretion so as to prevent the consequence of deportation and other adverse immigration consequences.

Establish the District Attorney Office as a Protector of the First Amendment Rights of the activist community

It is necessary for the LA DA to stand firmly behind his previously stated commitment to ending all prosecutions of political protesters who are non-violently exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech.  The LA DA should ensure that his commitment not to prosecute protesters gets clearly communicated to the LA City Attorney and to all law enforcement agencies who engage in the over policing of direct actions and the unnecessary harassment and brutality enacted upon protesters, which too frequently results in their  incarceration. Law enforcement officers in LA arrive at nearly all peaceful protests in tactical gear and in numbers wildly disproportionate to the level of risk to public safety presented by these direct actions. Police presence typically encountered in LA is often suggestive of military-style engagement, wherein they use a level of force clearly intended to silence and intimidate protesters. LAPD and LASD have secured LA’s reputation as having one of the most violent and repressive law enforcement regimes in the country, and messaging from the LA DA could quell this wave of oppression against protesters. 

With the above recommendations guiding our work, Justice LA looks forward to continuing to strive for divestment from systems of harm and reinvestment into our communities. Founded in 2017, Justice LA is a coalition of over 35 community organizations in Los Angeles County working to reduce the footprint of incarceration by stopping jail expansion and reclaiming, reimagining and reinvesting dollars away from incarceration and into community-based systems of care. The Coalition anticipates continued success towards a more just Los Angeles County.

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Sheriff Villanueva’s Trumpian tirades are just one reason why his office should be defunded

Image: LASD disgraceful family tree––Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka take big baby Alex Villanueva out for a stroll. Cartoon by Kim McGill.

Sheriff Villanueva’s Trumpian tirades are just one reason why his office should be defunded

August 28, 2020

Sheriff Villanueva is always crying about something. In an aimless, ranting, Trumpian speech on July 22nd, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva took to social media in a live-streamed video to complain about the growing efforts in Los Angeles and beyond to challenge the violence of policing, especially against Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. He called out JusticeLA by name and harassed the LA County CEO Sachi Hamai.

As with Trump, comments like the Sheriff’s can have real, and dangerous, impacts. Because of the lies he told about her, the CEO was threatened by his supporters and needed to retain personal security. Well, she sued him, and won a $1.5 million dollar settlement on August 26th from his lies and bullshit. We often don’t agree with the CEO’s politics, but we respect her and we are proud of anyone who stands up to bullies. Given what has happened in Kenosha, we are also very aware of what happens when law enforcement enables their violent, toxic supporters. 

Here’s the truth: The Sheriff is upset that communities who are fed up with law enforcement agencies eating up the lion’s share of the County’s budget are organizing––and making significant gains. Villanueva’s crosshairs were aimed not just at the CEO, but local elected officials and community organizers alike, including those within the Justice LA Coalition, with unfounded, and often laughable, accusations.

For those of us within the Justice LA Coalition, and for Angelenos at large, Villanueva’s characterizations of people who oppose him as “the criminal community” endangers the reputations and safety of those who dare oppose him, all for engaging in community organizing for the public good.

The Sheriff even went so far as to accuse us, a coalition of mostly young community members and advocates, of puppeteering the political system by supporting a vital new ballot initiative (Re-imagine LA, also known as Measure J) that could potentially reduce his department’s funding by as much as 10%. 

A concerted effort to derail the measure and prevent it from appearing on the November ballot failed today in court.

“If you’re trying to hijack the ballot process to get something on there, and give it a very innocuous or innocent sounding name like ‘Reimagine LA County’…just think Mad Max. Think a dystopian world where there is no law enforcement,” Villaneuva said. Apparently, he thinks investing in health, housing and human services will somehow devolve LA County into some kind of a nightmarish fright zone.

In this political climate, it is unnerving that the Sheriff, himself an elected official, would smear community advocacy, organizing, and grassroots campaigning––the foundation of democracy––as ominous, or even criminal. 

However, we are not the least bit surprised by Villanueva’s immature attacks against our communities, the CEO, and efforts for justice. We expect more will come. In fact, the attacks make perfect sense: as the head of an office whose only tool is the hammer of criminalization, everything looks like a nail. Opposition must be met with the most aggressive “law and order” response possible. We see it all over the country. We saw it at the Republican National Conventions this week. It is precisely for this reason, beyond any issue with Villanueva himself, that his office must be defunded. 

While Villanueva’s tactics are certainly rogue, our communities have endured the same kind of attacks through criminalization policies from sheriffs long before Villanueva. Contrary to his campaign promises, Villanueva has been in line with the shameful legacies of Sherman Block, Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka. Like his predecessors, Alex Villaneuva has spent more time protecting his department than he has protecting the community. From coverups to abuse, to a continued and almost fanatical devotion to resisting calls for transparency, Villanueva is a shameful knockoff of the crooks who came before him. 

We don’t want to focus too much on his pettiness. It’s not even about him. The Sheriff’s Department as a whole is a threat to marginalized people, and that’s why it has to be defunded. Our communities will continue to be hammered by the violence, discrimination, mistreatment, and systemic racism of an institution that has never been, nor set up to be, an effective tool for public safety. 

This reality stands true regardless of whether Villanueva is sitting at the helm. The issues within LASD are by no means specific to him; he just happens to be the one in the hot seat during this moment of much needed, and long overdue, scrutiny of policing in this country. For years, LASD has been wracked by wrongful death lawsuits, all paid for by our tax dollars. Let’s not forget the federal investigations, use of force complaints, sexual assault charges, and severe mistreatment of people with mental health needs

These problems existed long before Villanueva, and will not go away until we start meaningfully divesting from the Sheriff’s Department in order to resource community-based solutions that have proven to be far more effective in addressing the issues communities face every day. 

These are just a few reasons we have to Vote Yes on Measure J in November, and fight to Re-imagine LA as a care first county staffed with people trained to help––not harm. 

We thank Sheriff Villanueva for making this ever clearer to the people of Los Angeles.

#JusticeLA

Want to support community’s demand that Villanueva Resign? Sign the petition!

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LA County Must Act Immediately to Prevent COVID-19 Deaths in Jail System

LA County Must Act Immediately to Prevent COVID-19 Deaths in Jail System

March 15, 2020

Last Friday, JusticeLA joined over 40 local and statewide advocacy groups in demanding that Los Angeles County takes immediate action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside the county jail system and among our most vulnerable communities. 

Read the full letter here.

On the heels of two historic victories – the passing of Measure R and the adoption of the Los Angeles County Alternatives to Incarceration roadmap – community demands for decarceration have become ever more acute as COVID-19 spreads across Los Angeles County. LA County’s jails are the largest and among the most deadly in the country. Just last week, Raul Barreto, a beloved advocate and survivor of the youth probation system, lost his life in Men’s Central Jail. The overcrowded, unsanitary and violent conditions inside LA County jails cost human lives every year, and COVID-19 threatens to make these conditions even more deadly. While many of us in the free world are able to practice harm reduction measures to protect ourselves from this deadly virus, our community members caged inside the jails remain at the mercy of LA County leadership. The county must respond immediately and courageously to save lives. LA County should not have waited until a global pandemic threatened the lives of over 17,000 people in our jails in order to take decisive action. But now that the threat is at our doorstep, the county has no other choice but to expedite the release of our loved ones. For the sake of our family members and communities, we pray it is not too late.

#JusticeLA 

Want to support community’s demands? Join our call to action by signing your name now!

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Algorithms Should Not Determine Freedom: MIT Researchers Affirm Community Demands.

Algorithms Should Not Determine Freedom: MIT Researchers Affirm Community Demands.

July 17, 2019

The United States criminal legal system has created the world’s largest prison population and, through this mass incarceration, has destroyed countless lives and caused untold harm to Black, Brown and poor communities throughout the country. The injustice of this system is acute it’s pretrial detention practices, which hold accused people, who are legally innocent, locked in jails while awaiting trial, unless they have enough money to pay bail.
To their credit, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (BOS) and the California legislature have been attempting to reform this system. Unfortunately, both state and county have sought to replace money bail with an equally unfair and dangerous system — pretrial risk assessment. Risk assessment tools take discrete facts about an individual to create a profile and then compare that individual to large groups of people with similar profiles to estimate the likelihood the individual will do something bad in the future. These statistical estimates decide who goes free and who is jailed.

Today, data experts from leading academic institutions, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University sent the BOS a letter expressing “grave concerns” about these risk assessments tools, strongly warning against their use. The letter highlights how the tools use data such as people’s arrest records, criminal convictions, age, and sometimes even zip code, out of context, to assign risk scores that estimate their likelihood of missing court or being re-arrested.

The experts point out that this underlying data is “distorted” and functionally serves as proxies for race. They explain that “When tools conflate the likelihood of arrest for any reason with risk of violence, a large number of people will be labeled a threat to public safety without sufficient justification.” Understanding the well-documented history of discrimination by law enforcement, they explain that this over-estimation of danger will target people of color and poor people, risking increased pretrial incarceration rates and exacerbated racial inequalities.

#JusticeLA is a coalition of community organizations and advocacy groups mobilizing to create a safe and equitable society by elevating human needs and strengths over the punitive mass incarceration system. Our members, and grassroots leaders from impacted communities across the country, long ago recognized the danger of risk assessment tools based on our lived experience with redlining, racial profiling and other discriminatory practices.

The concerns raised by the academic experts echo the alarms #JusticeLA articulated a year ago in our letter to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors outlining the dangers of California Senate Bill 10 (SB10). SB10 replaced the money bail system with pretrial risk assessments, more judicial discretion and increased power to law enforcement.
We called on LA County to oppose SB10 and to reject the use of risk assessment tools in our local pretrial system. We warned that the implementation of such tools would dramatically increase the County’s already massive pretrial population. Since the passage of SB10 by the state legislature, the County’s own internal assessment predicted that it would more than double LA’s already largest in the world jail population.

Implementation of SB10 has been stalled, as the bail bond industry qualified a repeal referendum for the November 2020 election, in order to save a business model that has profited from the criminalization of Black, Brown and indigent communities for generations. Meanwhile, the risk assessment industry, led by private corporations, foundations and hedge-fund billionaires, seeks a new way to profit from mass incarceration, while claiming to support reform. Policymakers, drawn to its promise of technological efficiency, continue to ignore evidence of the mechanized racial profiling of the risk assessment tools.

#JusticeLA’s message remains clear: neither wealth nor profiling should determine a person’s freedom. Ending the exploitative money bail system has become a galvanizing issue; however, the larger goal of reducing our nation’s reliance on mass incarceration is obscured by myopic policies that rely on unvetted technology. The real call to action must be to preserve the presumption of innocence, a fundamental tenet of our legal system that has been transgressed for far too long.

LA County has a choice: proceed with risk assessment or heed these warnings; based on rigorous analysis and lived experience, now supported by academics who have reached the same conclusion that we must reject these tools and embrace real reform.

#JusticeLA

 

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Care first.

Care first.

Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will be voting on a budget that includes moving $120 million dollars toward the construction of 2,400 new jail beds for people with mental health needs. This move runs counter to the Board’s emphatic “care first, jail last” ethos driving the alternatives to incarceration work in the County. The interim report released this month by the Alternatives to Incarceration Workgroup (ATI) sharply demonstrated that County agencies, scholars, and community stakeholders reached consensus on the need to develop and fund alternatives to incarceration. The logical move is for the Board to prioritize funding that supports their calls for “care first, jail last.”

Until the County receives the results of multiple jail population studies, the final Alternatives to Incarceration Workgroup report, and a complete picture of the County’s pretrial population, any proposed number of new jail beds is based both on speculation and our society’s irresponsible muscle memory of relying on mass incarceration. Moving forward a $1.7 billion-dollar jail plan without due diligence is as dangerous as it is fiscally irresponsible.

What’s more insidious is the oft-repeated claim that we don’t have the funds for alternatives. On February 12, the County Chief Executive Officer informed the public that the County was sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars of general funds set aside for the construction of the mental health jail. So instead of solving the current houselessness crisis in the County or exploring investments in community based infrastructure that can reduce the jail population, the CEO syphoned and hoarded hundreds of millions of dollars for new jail space. If only a fraction of funds set aside for constructing jails were allocated to affordable housing, substance abuse treatment, and mental health services, the County could have saved lives. 

The Board remains the last line of defense against a rogue Chief Executive Office that continues to push for jail construction despite countywide consensus on alternatives. If they genuinely believe in “Care first,” they must demonstrate their commitment to alternatives by allocating these hundreds of millions earmarked for jail beds to community-based resources and develop a decarceration plan in order to close down Men’s Central Jail (MCJ). The fastest way to shrink the jail population and alleviate the unsafe conditions inside MCJ is to decarcerate, and the County’s pretrial population is the answer in plain sight.

LA County’s pretrial population hovers around 7,445. Additionally, 4,617 people in jail pretrial are there because they do not have the resources to pay bail. The County can choose to stop the use of money bail now and release thousands of people who cannot afford to pay for their freedom. If even half of the 4,617 people are eligible for release, that would account for nearly all 2,400 jail beds the CEO’s office is pushing to build.

The ODR’s recent report estimates that an additional 2,875 people with mental health needs can be diverted out of the County’s jail system, accounting for more than half of the total mental health population in LA County jails. It is 60-100% more expensive to jail people who have health, mental health, or substance use disorders. Fully funding community based diversion for this population is the most cost-effective approach. If the County releases one-third of its pretrial population, in addition to the ODR’s recommended population, that would reduce the jail population by 5,357, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. 

The only fiscally responsible choice is to terminate the current design build contract with McCarthy. If the Supervisors blindly follow the CEO’s lead and allocate $120 million toward the construction of jail beds on Monday without proper analysis, they will be deliberately prioritizing jails over care. With every vote, this Board is cementing their legacy. The LA County Board of Supervisors has been visionary in rhetoric. It remains to be seen if their vision will be backed up by action.

Ivette Alé

Statewide Coordinator, Californians United for a Responsible Budget

Campaign Coordinator, JusticeLA

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JusticeLA Responds to ODR’s Report on Community Reentry of Jail Mental Health Population

In a move welcomed by the JusticeLA coalition, the Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR) will be releasing a report detailing how nearly 3,000 prisoners with mental health concerns locked up in LA county jails can be released to community-based mental health resources. Mental health diversion and decentralized, community-based mental health care have long been demands of communities that have opposed new jail construction, and ODR’s latest study affirms that neither a new jail nor an enormous jail-like “mental health treatment center” is necessary or desirable.

By laying a path for releasing thousands of prisoners with mental health concerns, the Office of Diversion and Reentry has now released a bold vision for decarceration and mental health treatment that echoes what communities opposed to jail construction dared to imagine over a decade ago.

“Care not cages” has been the rallying cry of community lead opposition to jail expansion in Los Angeles for nearly a decade. JusticeLA, a coalition of advocates, community members, individuals and families impacted by incarceration, continues building on the legacy of resistance by groups like the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence and L.A. No More Jails, calling for an end to jail construction and an investment in community-based treatment and support. Through our collective work, we have not only stopped the jail expansion plan for LA County, but we have shifted the entire paradigm away from a reliance on jails to a focus on health and human services. In fact, the creation of the county’s Office of Diversion and Reentry was a direct response to community pressure for increased diversion back in 2015. What began as a pilot program has proven to be an effective model for community-based treatment and diversion of some of the most serious cases facing the county.

It is clear that the advocacy of the last decade has shifted the landscape of LA County away from incarceration and towards treatment and care.

To their credit, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors have flexed their collective muscle to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated and that Los Angeles becomes the model for holistic, restorative criminal justice reform. The impact of community advocacy was unmistakable on the critical February 12th, 2019 vote on the jail plan, when Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas declared that he supported “Care Not Cages.”

It is monumental that after seven years since the new jail construction plan was proposed, the county is now discussing how a mental health system should replace the jail plan, rather than whether or not we need new jails. Recent motions to study mental health treatment and pretrial reform, as well as the creation of the Alternatives to Incarceration Workgroup, are great first steps in this collective reimagining of LA County. But in order for that vision to be fully executed, the County must commit to fully funding ODR’s plan and implement a transparent process that engages community at every step and invests in the development of local, community-based mental health centers rather than a monolithic hospital that essentially functions as a jail. The ODR report argues that large scale decarceration is not only possible, it is ethically necessary.

JusticeLA continues to demand a fundamental shift away from a centralized mental health facility that resembles a jail.

The construction of a 3,800 bed mental health center, which would mirror the dark legacy of failed and oppressive model of big mental asylums in this country, is not only obscene in size and cost, it is diametrically opposed to LA residents’ needs and national standards of treatment. ODR’s report calls for the diversion of nearly 3,000 people with mental health needs, rendering arguments for the massive asylum obsolete. If built, it will cost up to $2 billion dollars from LA County’s general fund – money that can and should be invested in developing community based services. The proposed asylum is intended to be built downtown, limiting job creation and expansion of community based services to other parts of Los Angeles County in desperate need of resources.

Despite all signs pointing to a complete rejection of the current plan to build a massive asylum and investment in community-based treatment, the CEO’s office and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department continue to push for this controversial, flawed, and costly system. Both parties have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo at the expense of Black, Brown and poor communities already suffering from generations of divestment and criminalization. The moment for incremental reforms has passed. What LA County needs now is bold, decisive action.

JusticeLA’s plan will build a stronger LA

JusticeLA’s plan for community-based mental health centers in each district of the LA County provides the roadmap for better treatment as well as job creation. The plan also supports union demands for local zip code hiring and is backed up by national mental health treatment standards. Mental health treatment that builds care in the community is the only appropriate course of action, as it is both cost effective and provides better treatment.

The community has been calling for paradigm shift away from incarceration towards real public safety that prioritizes well-being and dignity. What ODR’s work demonstrates is that public health strategies are more effective drivers of public safety than arrest and jailing. We will continue to work with elected officials to ensure they do their part in supporting this historic shift away from arresting people, including those who presumably “must” be kept in jail. County leaders’ mandate should be to follow the call of community members, the research of ODR, and various health and justice leaders who agree that diversion, not jail, is the most effective public health strategy. The county now has the opportunity to build on ODR’s assessment and consider diversion opportunities for other subpopulations, such as the county’s pretrial population which hovers around 44% of the total jail population, prevention before these individuals are arrested and how these models will be staffed.

By stopping new jail construction, we have already moved mountains. With your continued support, we can make our dreams for a strong and healthy LA a reality.

#JusticeLA

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JusticeLA Supports Ending the Death Penalty in California                                                               

JusticeLA Supports Ending the Death Penalty in California

The #JusticeLA Coalition, an alliance of organizations, advocates, and community members impacted by incarceration applauds Governor Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on the death penalty. California has long held the title of the nation’s largest death row — a striking contrast to the state’s image as a progressive stalwart.

Governor Newsom showed the power of principle by halting the practice of state-sanctioned murder, and quite literally saving the lives of 737 people, reminding us that governors have such power. With at least 164 death row exonerations having happened since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1973, and at least 30 known wrongful convictions on CA’s death row, we face a crisis of state violence and reckless and unprincipled law enforcement that we know is represented in jails and prisons everywhere.

While the death penalty stands as the heinous endgame of the punitive and violet criminal justice system, and the most egregious example of extreme sentencing, California must address the overwhelming population of people serving Life Without Parole (LWOP). Over 5000 people are serving LWOP sentences in California prisons and of the nearly 200 people serving LWOP in CA women’s prisons, the overwhelming majority are survivors of abuse, including intimate partner battering, childhood abuse, sexual violence, and sex trafficking. The structural harm and inequity that feeds the death penalty, feeds all other forms of sentencing as well. Black and Brown people are disproportionately sentenced to LWOP, revealing the same prosecutorial bias and racial discrimination that the Governor himself cited as reason for his decisive and historic end to the death penalty in California.  

JusticeLA strongly supports California’s campaign to end Life Without Parole sentencing (Drop LWOP) lead by California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) and Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB).

Governor Newsom now has an opportunity to build on Governor Brown’s unprecedented number of commutations to people serving LWOP sentences in California prisons. While commuting a sentence does not guarantee release from prison, it does guarantee that each person will have the right to see the parole board in their lifetime, rather than being sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison under a “living death penalty.” A step away from California’s long standing dissonance of values has occurred with this moratorium, and we hope that our lawmakers follow suit and begin doing more.

#JusticeLA

 

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We made history. But the fight isn’t over.

We made history. But the fight isn’t over.

Last week, Justice LA and many other organizations and community members turned out in force to actualize the vision of generations of organizing. A sea of orange shirts filled the room as a reminder to the Supervisors and to each other that people power makes the impossible possible. The women’s jail (Mira Loma) was rejected outright and the mental health jail plan (CCTF) was shifted to instead build a mental health treatment facility! Our victories are a culmination of nearly a decade of activism by advocates, community members, individuals and families impacted by incarceration. Through our collective work, we have not only stopped the jail expansion plan for LA County, we have shifted the entire paradigm away from a reliance on jails to health and human services.

The Wins

  • THERE WILL BE NO NEW WOMEN’S JAIL AT MIRA LOMA!
  • The County replaced their plans for the mental health jail from a law enforcement driven model to a treatment model. We are well positioned for the Sheriff to no longer be the sole authority in this structure moving forward, with Departments of Health Services and Mental Health called to strongly participate.
  • The Supervisors adopted JusticeLA’s recommendations to explore the decentralization of the approved replacement to Men’s Central Jail.
  • We saw the largest and strongest anti-jail mobilization to the Board of Supervisors that we’ve seen in years!

But we must remain activated and vigilant.

As Supervisor Hilda Solis so clearly pointed out: “A jail is a jail is a jail.” In her statement following the vote, she writes, “It is not enough to change the name of the [mental health jail]. What the Board of Supervisors approved today still has to be certified and approved by the Board of State and Community Corrections and not a mental health regulator. The Board of Supervisors did not solicit input from the community or mental health experts when developing this brand-new project. Further, the Board of Supervisors made this decision without examining the population currently in our custody or forecasting the tremendous impact that diversion and bail reform efforts would have on further reducing our jail population.”

Supervisor Kuehl argued that approving the contract for the mental health treatment facility “hardens our ability to think in other ways … this hospital would be bigger than all of our hospitals put together.” Both Solis and Kuehl stated concerns that building this mental health treatment facility will funnel resources away from efforts to expand community based treatment. We share the concerns that both Supervisors Solis and Keuhl raised during the meeting and that ultimately informed their ‘NO’ votes to Supervisor Hahn and Mark Ridley-Thomas’ amendments.

The Struggle Continues

  • A jail by another name: The Supervisors voted (3-2) to approve a $2.2 billion contract originally designed for jail construction. Although the preamble of the Hahn/Ridley-Thomas amendments to CCTF were some of the most progressive words to come out of this board regarding shifting from jail construction to a treatment centered model, the directives failed to live up to the preamble. We must continue to demand a rejection of a centralized mental health facility that resembles a jail. The construction of a 3,800 bed mental health treatment facility is not only obscene in size and cost, it is diametrically opposed to LA residents’ needs and national standards of treatment. Mental health experts, including those directing the County’s health departments, clearly stated that a decentralized approach to mental health treatment that builds care in the community is the only appropriate course of action. What will be both cost effective and provide better treatment is JusticeLA’s plan for at least one community-based mental health center in each district of the LA County.
  • Transparency and Accountability: There is no explicit mechanism for community input regarding the size and scope of the revised project and the Department of Public Works and CEO’s office have proven to be untrustworthy in this process. We need to ensure that a transparent and accountable process is immediately in place.
  • Population and Diversion Analysis: The approved plan does not allow sufficient time to consider the results of various studies the Board has set in motion – including a study of mental health bed capacity and pretrial diversion. We need to ensure that LA County continues to lead this project from a position of prioritizing lowering the jail population.
  • Current plan limits job creation and expansion of community based services: The proposed 3,800 bed mental health treatment facility is intended to be built in the heart of LA. This will limit job creation and opportunities for people who live in other parts of Los Angeles County. This mental health facility is set to cost up $2 billion dollars from LA County’s general fund. General fund dollars that can be and should be invested in developing community based services. 

Our organizing towards stopping jail expansion and investing in LA County’s genuine community needs is not over. #JusticeLA is regrouping and strategizing our next steps. Congratulations to our coalition members and thank you to our partners and allies for standing so strong with us yesterday! We encourage everyone to stay plugged in and stay activated!

With gratitude,

#JusticeLA

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It’s Go Time!

It’s Go Time! 

With less than a week to go before the County’s historic vote on the current $3.5 Billion jail plan, Supervisor Hilda Solis has released a powerful statement committing to voting ‘No’ on CCFT (the mental health jail). Her statement was accompanied by a motion calling for a coordinated study of mental health and substance abuse diversion and treatment capacity in order to “reimagine” the county’s jail construction plan. 

In her motion she writes, “several forensic mental health experts have indicated that investment in new jails, even with improved treatment components, are unlikely to significantly improve the treatment of inmates with mental illness […] The answer, according to these experts, is not in building a new jail to replace a decrepit one.”

Help us move the rest of the Board to reject new jails!

If you agree that people with mental health needs should be treated in their community and not in a jail, sign and share our petition against the mental health jail! Over 4,000 people have signed – help us reach 5,000! 

Email or call your Supervisor asking them to vote ‘NO’ on jail construction! Supervisors Hahn or Ridley-Thomas especially need to hear from you!

Don’t know who your supervisor is? Find out here!

  1. HILDA L SOLIS, (213) 974-4111, E-mail: firstdistrict@bos.lacounty.gov
  2. MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS, (213) 974-2222 Email: SecondDistrict@bos.lacounty.gov
  3. SHEILA KUEHL, (213) 974-3333, Email: sheila@bos.lacounty.gov
  4. JANICE HAHN, (213) 974-4444, Email: fourthdistrict@bos.lacounty.gov
  5. KATHRYN BARGER, (213) 974-5555, Email: Kathryn@bos.lacounty.gov

Sample Script: Thank you Supervisor _______ for your commitment to investing in alternatives to incarceration. As a stakeholder in your district, I am deeply troubled that the County is considering waisting billions on jail construction, which would undermine all of your amazing efforts to divert people with mental health and substance use issues out of incarceration and into community-based treatment. I strongly urge you to vote ‘no’ on any jail construction next Tuesday and continue building on your visionary work. 

Rally with JusticeLA on February 12th! 

Next Tuesday February 12th will be the single most important date in the history of the L.A. County jail fight! Join JusticeLA at the Care Not Cages Rally and Press Conference to demand a complete stop of all jail construction and full investment in alternatives to incarceration. 

Where: 500 W Temple St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
When: 10am

Support: RSVP and share the Facebook Event! 

Can’t attend? Support us on social media! All you have to do is CLICK to TWEET! 

Thank you for your leadership LA County Supervisor @HildaSolis! “We must properly explore how we can better treat mental health & substance use* needs.” In community based settings NOT Jails. The community stands w/ you! You can’t get well in a cell! https://hildalsolis.org/statement-from-supervisor-hilda-l-solis-on-the-consolidated-correctional-treatment-facility-project/

To the Building Trades & Unions of Los Angeles County: Stand w/ us against the LA County Jail Plan! Stopping the Jail plan will NOT take away jobs! The jobs that are created if the County builds Hospitals & community based centers ARE STILL GOOD JOBS! BUILD Community! #JusticeLA

You @SheilaKuehl @HildaSolis @SupJaniceHahn @kathrynbarge @mridleythomas – must make the right decision this time and reject the wasteful, ineffective & unnecessary construction of CCTF. You have OPTIONS! This plan is 10 years old! Let it go and study how we can best reduce pop!

🚨ACTION🚨: We strongly urge the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to vote NO, on February 12th, and reject the plan to build a $4 billion mental health jail! SIGN OUR PETITION from community members and health care providers against the jail! http://bit.ly/2WrI0Be

.@SheilaKuehl @HildaSolis @SupJaniceHahn @kathrynbarge @mridleythomas @LACoSheriff from 2013-2018 the population of ppl w/mental health needs in the LA County Jail System increased by 66%. INVEST IN COMMUNITY BASED SERVICES! You can’t get well in a cell! #CareNotCages #JusticeLA

#JusticeLA 

p.s. Check out the powerful The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board piece opposing the construction of the mental health jail!

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It’s time to weigh in on SB10!

It’s time to weigh in on SB10!

JusticeLA’s leadership on the issue of bail reform has been felt across the state and across the country. Our swift and clear opposition to SB10 earlier this year galvanized grassroots leadership against deceptive bail reform policy and set the precedent that we can expect more from our legislators and each other. But despite our collective efforts with movement partners like Essie Justice Group, Human Rights Watch, LA CAN, and many others, this harmful piece of legislation passed. We opposed this bill because it gave too much unchecked discretion to judges and required the use of profile-based risk assessment tools to determine a person’s freedom.

We also predicted that this unchecked power would expand the state’s pretrial population. Now, L.A. County’s own projections show that SB10 will more than double our pretrial population. 

The Judicial Council has released the first two proposed rules to guide implementation. Unfortunately, they failed to provide meaningful checks on unlimited judicial discretion or protections against abuse of the risk assessment tools. Without a loud, collective response, the county’s projections may become a reality.  
 

We have until THIS Friday December 14 at 5pm (PST) to submit comments demanding checks on judicial power and risk assessments!  

Click HERE to submit your comments online.

  1. Select “Do not agree with proposed changes”
  2. Enter your comments. Feel free to copy and paste the comments below: 

As a stakeholder concerned with the protection of due process and the presumption of innocence, I request that the Judicial Council address the following issues with the proposed rules:

  • The proposed rules provide no definition of the risk categories (low, medium and high) into which risk assessment tools will sort people, including no limitation on what factors the tools will use to make their assessments.
  • The rules allow the tools to assess for improper risks, like risk of re-arrest for any crime.
  • The rules fail to forbid, and may even enable, use of risk assessment tools that lack transparency or produce biased outcomes.
  • The rules overwhelmingly use vague language and undefined terms like “significant weight,” “reasonably assure,” “least restrictive” or requirements to “consider” rather than give precise guidance on use of the tools.
  • The rules do not set guidelines for controlling accuracy, measuring bias, requiring transparency or addressing other technical flaws with the risk assessment tools.
  • The rules do not set procedural requirements to guarantee careful consideration and democratic participation in decisions to create exclusions to release for “medium” risk people.
  • The rules allow unproven accusations to be assessed as part of a person’s criminal history, rather than limit it to actual convictions.
  • The rules do not create any procedure for an individual to challenge an unfavorable risk score.
  • The rules do not clearly proscribe discrimination based on immigration status or citizenship, nor do they institute procedural protections in the pre-trial process to protect against bias in discretionary decisions by all judicial officers involved.
  • The rules do not account for the difficulty accused people will have getting favorable information to Pretrial Assessment Services (“PAS”) agents at the pre-arraignment stage.
  • The rules do not enhance the due process rights of accused people in addressing their pretrial custody status.

I support the following proposed protections: 

  • Courts and PAS must account for the circumstances of the accused individual and the impact pretrial incarceration will have on that person’s family and community.
  • Conditions of release must not be a form of punishment and must not be made overly difficult to fulfill.

 

As the largest county in the state and the largest jailer in the world, Los Angeles has the most at stake. That is why it’s critical that your voice be heard. Together, we will continue to fight for real bail reform, transform our county and bring our people home. 

Yours In the Struggle,
#JusticeLA

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News

Trump’s Embrace of First Step Act is Fake Reform

As thousands of firefighters, many of whom are currently incarcerated, battle one of the most devastating environmental catastrophes California has ever experienced, Donald Trump embraces the First Step Act, a bill that reinforces the blistering racism and capitalistic policies that have subjected millions of Black, Brown, and poor bodies to local, state, and federal criminal justice systems.

Mass incarceration impacts all aspects of life for so many Californians and Americans. We work in a collaborative formation that many call a movement, with the intent and desire to set our communities free from a system that has devastated our communities for generations. Currently, we work under a particular kind of duress, as there is an administration in place that has not only affirmed and validated the state violence that we fight, but gregariously celebrated it. To have Van Jones and others come to Los Angeles in this moment, and extol the virtues of Trump’s destructive and amoral administration and call him a “uniter-in-chief” was an example of irresponsible advocates supporting a divisive policy that continues the denigration of people who are incarcerated, including immigrants.

“The Trump administration has not and is not embracing reform,” Phal Sok, a member of JusticeLA and the Youth Justice Coalition explains. “Characterizing an endorsement of the First Step Act as such is not only myopic, it disregards his relentless attacks on our communities. As part of the collective movement for liberation, JusticeLA stands in strong opposition to local and national forces that seek to expand the reach of incarceration and call reform.”

Those, like Van Jones, who traffic in policy efforts that serve to expand the reach of the prison industrial complex in order to secure political footing, do so while exploiting the desperation, vulnerability, and trauma of impacted people and sanctioning an administration peddling fascism and white supremacy. Liberal accomplices of Trump-endorsed policies do so at the risk of obscuring the administration’s actual agenda – increasing the criminalization, incarceration and deportation of LGBTQIA+ communities, refugees and Black and Brown people from America’s “ghettos” and “shithole countries.”

Earlier this year, JusticeLA voiced our opposition to the bill. We can only hope that some good can come of it, and we appreciate those who fought to make key changes to the bill, namely adding some sentencing reform, limiting DOJ and warden discretion, and demanding oversight for disturbing provisions like the development and implementation of algorithmic based risk assessment instruments. Those changes are ultimately not enough to mitigate what is in the end, a harmful bill that expands the mass criminalization and surveillance of our communities, or what Michelle Alexander describes as “the newest Jim Crow.”  The First Step Act does not represent real reform. It carves out those most vulnerable to the revolving door impacts of mass imprisonment, and manages to create more bureaucracy. This bill is weaker than prior federal criminal justice reform efforts, while also placing potential implementation in the hands of an administration that openly endorses “zero tolerance” policies that have led to family separation and the incarceration of thousands. “In many respects, we’re getting very much tougher on the truly bad criminals — of which, unfortunately, there are many,” Trump declared. If Trump does in fact keep his word, the First Step Act will be yet another tool of a corrupt and punitive administration.

#JusticeLA

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JusticeLA Celebrates 1 Year of Resistance!

One year ago today, community members delivered 100 jail beds to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in a clear statement of opposition towards the county’s $3.5 billion jail expansion plan. Our message was simple: invest in communities, not jails. We reclaimed “public safety” as the measure of how well we meet life-sustaining needs — housing, healthcare, education — rather than how many of our people are behind bars. We reimagined a Los Angeles where people are not caged, but instead, treated with the care they need in their communities. And we continue to demand that Los Angeles County reinvest billions, not on jails, but on community-based alternatives to incarceration and the future of our young people.

The fight is far from over.

Over the last year, the JusticeLA Coalition has built on nearly a decade of resistance, engaging thousands of people, locally and nationally, in this fight. From town halls and community panels, block parties and massive rallies, to evocative creative and cultural work, we have amplified the visibility of our struggle and flexed our collective muscle. Although opposition to the jails is rapidly growing and statewide pressure for criminal justice reform increases, the county moves forward with their poorly thought out and harmful jail plan. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors continues to plow through with an opaque process that intentionally excludes the voices of our community. The JusticeLA Coalition will not stop shining a light on incarceration in Los Angeles and fight at every step of the way until this jail plan is stopped.

We are now at a critical juncture — ground has not broken on jail construction and contracts have not been approved. Now is the time to flex our muscles once again and show L.A. County once and for all that we will not sit idly by while they build jails that will incarcerate our children. The change we want to see in our state and in our country starts at home, and when your home is the largest jailer in the world, anything other than change is unacceptable.  

JusticeLA

 

 

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Statement on L.A. County Supervisors Vote to Approve $2.2B to Build New Jail

Statement on L.A. County Supervisors Vote to Approve $2.2B to Build New Jail

JusticeLA is deeply troubled by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ vote to move forward with the construction of a so-called mental health jail.  Los Angeles County is the largest jailer in the world, has one of the most murderous law enforcement departments in the world and has consistently failed to support our most vulnerable populations.

Despite growing protests against the jail, the Board of Supervisors continues to ignore the voices its most important stakeholders–its constituents. This so-called progressive Board has chosen locally to uphold the country’s shameful legacy of incarceration, cementing them in history alongside the policies of President Donald Trump and United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions. JusticeLA urges the people of Los Angeles County, and across the country, to fight against this proposed jail construction and all attempts to expand the carceral system through increased policing, surveillance or imprisonment.

On Tuesday, June 19, the Board of Supervisors was faced with an important vote for environmental and funding approval of a new mental health jail.  During public comment, no one–institution or individual– argued in support of another jail. What people did argue for was access to education, money for their community centers and community projects.  An hour after public comment, the Board of Supervisors advanced the $3.5 billion jail plan rather than investing in our communities. This is the type of disappointment we expect from the Trump administration, not from our local leadership here in Los Angeles County.

Where do we go from here?

Los Angeles County must stop funding the jails that will cage our children in the future. Instead, we must re-allocate those funds towards the success of our children by making investments that promote true public safety such as education, community-based mental health resources, good jobs, affordable housing and scholarship programs. L.A. County must immediately reduce rates of incarceration through efforts such as the decriminalization of quality of life charges, elimination of pre-trial imprisonment and non-punitive diversion programs. It is the duty of our public officials to use taxpayer money responsibly for the benefit of the people. The jail plan is a harmful waste of taxpayer dollars that must be ended now.   

 

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JusticeLA Issues Letter to Supervisors As Future of Bail Reform Hangs in the Balance with SB 10

JusticeLA Issues Letter to L.A. County Board of Supervisors As Future of Bail Reform Hangs in the Balance with SB 10

June 6, 2018

Today, JusticeLA issued the following letter to members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors calling on them to oppose the use of algorithm-based risk-assessment tools under the guise of bail reform that will shift bail amounts based strictly on accusations, to a system that uses factors such as poverty and other indicia that will disfavor mainly people of color:

Honorable Members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors:

JusticeLA enthusiastically supports ending money bail in California as a step towards ending the pretrial detention system that continues to undermine a meaningful particle of justice and public safety in Los Angeles County. Towards that end, we unequivocally oppose the use of pretrial risk assessment tools. The current money bail system wastes millions of County dollars, extracts additional millions from our most vulnerable communities, and thwarts the rights to the assumption of innocence and freedom. While we support the effort of SB 10 to significantly reduce the use of money bail, its risk-assessment component euphemizes our current bail schedules by shifting bail amounts based strictly on accusations into amounts based on factors such as poverty and other indicia that will disfavor our local communities.

Neither wealth nor profiling should determine a person’s freedom.

Algorithm-based risk-assessment tools give the illusion of neutrality, normalizing bias while reinforcing long-standing systems of racial inequality. The notion that any risk assessment instrument can account for bias ignores the racial disparities in current and past policing practices. Because risk-assessment tools primarily rely on criminal history information, they will only exacerbate racial disparities. Ultimately, risk-assessment tools create a feedback-loop of racial profiling, pre-trial detention and conviction. A person’s freedom should not be reduced to an algorithm. It is dehumanizing and ignores the context that can only be achieved through a proper hearing with evidence examined and defense counsel present.

Therefore, we strongly urge you to request the following amendments to SB 10:

Remove the mandate for risk assessment tools in order to give Los Angeles County the autonomy to form its own pre-trial system.

All misdemeanor and non-serious/non-violent felonies get released without a risk-assessment determining conditions.

Anyone who qualifies for appointed counsel would be deemed unable to pay for conditions (electronic monitoring, costs of pretrial services, drug testing, etc.).

Where pre-trial detention is being considered, courts should implement individualized hearings to determine the necessity of pre-trial detention. A needs-based assessment should be administered to determine the least restrictive conditions for release while providing relevant resources and services; including mental health treatment, housing, substance abuse treatment, as well as wrap-around services. Services should be rendered and provided without expanding conditions

JusticeLA insists that the following steps be put into place alongside bail reform:

Pretrial services should be housed within the Department of Public Health.

County funding should be allocated for pilot programs in each district that support community-based pretrial services.

Any savings from reducing pretrial incarceration should be allocated to implement pre-arrest, community-based diversion programs with restricted police authority to require people to enter these programs.

Pretrial release should not be reliant on punitive or controlling measures such as Electronic Monitoring but rather should be based on meeting individual needs.

Finally, bail reform presents Los Angeles County with the opportunity to drastically reduce its jail population. By the L.A. County Sheriff’s’ own estimates, nearly half of the jail population is awaiting trial. In light of the Humphrey legal decision and the likely passage of statewide bail reform, Los Angeles County must develop an immediate and long-term decarceration plan that would provide benchmarks for the reduction of the overall LA County jail population as well as per day jail bed occupancy. Given that 50% of LA County’s jail population is being held pretrial, bail reform would drastically reduce this percentage. This will result in opportunities for investing in community-based alternatives to imprisonment, other decarceration and decriminalization efforts, and life-sustaining services such as community-based mental health care. LA County should immediately halt all plans and efforts for jail construction until bail reform is fully implemented and there is a thorough assessment of financial, community, and jail impacts.

We welcome the opportunity to expand on our recommendations and continue discussions on bail reform implementation with your offices.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

JusticeLA Executive Committee

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Statement: JusticeLA Opposes FIRST STEP Act

JusticeLA, a coalition of community organizations working with directly impacted communities affected by incarceration, has joined the chorus of organizations nationwide in opposing the FIRST STEP Act.

“Last week, the House of Representatives passed harmful legislation masked as a “criminal justice” bill.  As a coalition that advocates for the rights of communities targeted by the prison system, JusticeLA vehemently opposes H.R. 5682 also referred to as the FIRST STEP Act.

“We oppose the FIRST STEP Act because it dehumanizes and criminalizes our communities. The First Step Act further invests in structural racism through the use of risk assessments, extensive carve-outs of vulnerable populations, with a false promise of earned credit for those who qualify.  The bill opens the door to privatization, e-carceration and anti-immigrant policy.

“Although immigration and drug offenses account for over 50% of the total federal prison population, the FIRST STEP Act excludes the majority of these populations. The bill specifically excludes those with more serious criminal convictions and deportable or inadmissible immigrants from benefitting from these programs. To discard this vulnerable population in the interest of a political victory is a violation of the principles that we stand for.

America’s criminal justice system continues to be built on anti-Blackness and causes disproportionately harm to Black and brown people, including queer and trans people and immigrants and people of all economic classes–including white people. What’s more, the tools in this bill would be handed over to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who works consistently to harm our communities.

“Sessions has demonized and threatened Black activists fighting to dismantle structural racism. Through his policies, he has caused immediate harm to Black people and all people of color, including immigrants.

“The FIRST STEP Act would do little to reform prisons or the federal court system that can’t already be done under current laws. The bill excludes necessary funding for recidivism reduction programming and fails to safeguard savings from ending up in the hands of law enforcement. The FIRST STEP Act also fails to address the need for sentencing reform so that America can begin to address the over-policing and criminalization of the communities this bill excludes. Without sentencing reform, meaningful prison reform is nullified.

“In conclusion, the FIRST STEP Act is not real prison reform, and it is especially not prison reform proportionate to the strength and sacrifice of the directly impacted people who have built this movement. The broad bipartisan support the movement for criminal justice reform now enjoys is the product of far-reaching generational harm. To discard an entire population of people in the interest of a political victory is a violation of the principles that we stand for.”

 

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L.A. County’s Bail Reform Proposal Lacks Actual Reform

L.A. County’s Bail Reform Proposal Lacks Actual Reform

JusticeLA releases detailed report on Bail Reform Motion

LOS ANGELES, CA –  – JusticeLA, a grassroots coalition of organizations fighting the $3.5 billion expansion to L.A. County’s jail system, today released a critical report describing in detail a continued institutional commitment by the County of Los Angeles to attempt to triage a flawed money bail system rather than address the  profound structural inequalities of the current pretrial system including the racial and economic disparities in the criminal justice system. Authored by Ivette Alé, Statewide Coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) and Lex Steppling, Lead National Organizer for JustLeadershipUSA , the report is in response to the L.A. County Office of County Counsel’s report commissioned by the Board of Supervisors regarding their 2017 Bail Reform motion authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis.

A recent study by UCLA’s Million Dollar Hoods Project reveals that $19.4 billion of money bail was levied on persons arrested by the LAPD between 2012 and 2016. Of the $198.8 million paid in nonrefundable bail bond deposits to bail bond agents, Latinos paid $92.1 million, African Americans paid $40.7 million, and Whites paid $37.9 million. But most money bail was never paid, leaving 223,366 people in LAPD custody before arraignment during that four year span.

The study also found that Black and Latinx women disproportionately paid the nonrefundable bail bond deposits. Pretrial incarceration compromises the public safety of everyone and shifts the financial burden to vulnerable communities, but the answer is not an expansion of community surveillance. We will not accept a bail system or “reform” that continues to devastate lives while furthering home jailing through restrictive pretrial release conditions.

Grassroots efforts to overhaul bail systems and reduce the number of people who are incarcerated exist from coast to coast and have facilitated a moment of inevitable change. It forces us to ask the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and Los Angeles County Counsel–the Board of Supervisors legal advocates and advisers–what are the real goals of the “bail reforms” on the table?

Pseudo reforms like the use of algorithm-based risk assessment tools, electronic monitoring, and onerous systems-driven pretrial release conditions cannot replace a money bail system – because they are, in fact, an extension of it. These “reforms” made under the guise of equity, fairness, and efficiency, would only further entrench a pretrial system intent on the criminalization of low-income communities and communities of color. While SB 10, the California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017, seeks to address the inequities of money bail at the state level, it may fail to include proper protections against the expansion of surveillance and harmful risk assessment tools. L.A. County has the opportunity to lead California in genuinely restorative pretrial practices that focus on needs and community-based support.

Constituents and advocates directly impacted by the jail crisis know what meaningful bail reform looks like. The entities that the Board of Supervisor’s County Counsel consulted in this process do not represent directly impacted voices or communities and seem to have one thing in common: an institutional commitment to the expansion and continued development and implementation of risk assessment tools.  Included in this is the reality that in some cases there are fiscal commitments to furthering the use of algorithm-based risk assessment tools in the pretrial system.

DOWNLOAD

The report can be downloaded at http://justicelanow.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Bail-Reform.pdf.

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News Event

JusticeLA to Bring Critical Discussion on Providing Alternatives to Incarceration to East Los Angeles

Continuing in a series of curated dialogues spread across Los Angeles County in local communities, JusticeLA will hold a town hall meeting to discuss L.A. County’s plan to spend $3.5 billion on expanding the largest jail system in the country.  The conversation will also include the campaign to urge the Board of Supervisors to redirect funds into community services and other alternatives to incarceration for directly impacted communities in an effort to reduce the jail population.  Panelists include Arvene Knox (Essie Justice Group), Anthony Robles (Youth Justice Coalition), Elizeth Virrueta Ortiz (San Gabriel Valley Immigrant Youth Coalition), Maria Ponce (Building Healthy Communities – Boyle Heights), and Nancy Meza (Defend Boyle Heights).  Black Lives Matter and Dignity and Power Now co-founder Patrisse Cullors will be the keynote speaker.

Co-hosted by Immigrant Youth Coalition and Youth Justice Coalition, the town hall meeting “Reclaim and Reimagine What Public Safety Looks Like in Our Communities” will take place Saturday, March 31 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Wellness Center located at 1200 N. State Street in East Los Angeles. The event is free and open to the public and will also include a conviction relief clinic to assist attendees with an opportunity and pathway to clean their criminal records and get a fresh start in life.  

Click here to RSVP

 

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Petition – Stop the Wasteful $3.5 Billion Jail Construction Project!

Petition – Stop the Wasteful $3.5 Billion Jail Construction Project!

More incarceration does NOT equal less crime

Powerful figures in law enforcement and the jail industry are pushing a massive jail construction project in Los Angeles County conservatively estimated to cost $3.5 billion.

But the county jail system, already the largest in the nation, does not need new buildings. What it truly needs is drastic reform of an incarceration system that is not only woefully outdated, but also severely unfair to people of color, people living in poverty and women.

Currently:

  • 80% of inmates in L.A. County jails are Black or Latino.
  • 51% have not stood trial or are awaiting sentencing. Many if not most of these inmates are locked up because they can’t afford to meet bail.

Part of the billion-dollar project would require moving women incarcerated at Lynwood to Lancaster, which is 75 miles away from Downtown L.A. — away from family and from organizations that provide programs and support to these women inside and outside of jail.

No conclusive research has indicated that increased jail incarceration has a meaningful impact on crime reduction. The taxpayer funds earmarked for this wrong-headed project would be far better spent on criminal justice and bail system reforms, plus community-based programs that have been shown to be effective in many parts of the country.

Los Angeles should be a leader in forging ahead with proven, contemporary solutions to incarceration that do not heavily favor the privileged.

Join JusticeLA and sign this petition to Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl demanding that she take a leadership role and scrap the building project and bring true reform to L.A. County jails!

Sign the Petition
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JusticeLA Town Hall Calls on White People to Step Up on Prison Reform

JusticeLA Town Hall Calls on White People to Step Up on Prison Reform

Unabridged transcript of a speech given at the Justice LA Town Hall at Hollywood United Methodist Church on January 11, 2018.

The task before us, as white people of conscience, is to mobilize other white folks into taking anti-racist action and to dismantle the white supremacist system that is crushing all of us. To be clear, we are not just talking about the brand of white supremacy touted by people who wear white hoods and the alt-right, or people who cover themselves in swastika tattoos. It is the white supremacist system that created the racial divide, and awarded white people both material and psychic benefits, causing us to distance ourselves from aligning with people of color to challenge power structures that oppress all of us. This centuries old scheme has allowed white people to support “law and order” policies that devastate poor white communities and communities of color. The law and order policies, under the guise of public safety, served to indoctrinate the vast majority of white people into a culture that supports and promotes incarceration as the tool to solve all of our social problems. What does it say of our county’s character if we value criminalizing mental health issues, poverty, and public health issues that stand to result in the need to expand jails instead of investing in the health of our community members; that building jails is a better investment than building schools; that building jails is a better investment than providing mental health care and substance abuse treatment services. Lastly, that building jails is more worthy of our tax dollars, than providing everyone with access to healthcare, affordable housing, education, and job training programs. All this to promote the illusion of public safety. But who defines public safety? Have you felt safer with each jail that has been constructed in California?

The trajectory of covert racism since the gains of the civil rights movement has allowed the white majority to submit to a brand of dog whistle politics that is responsible for gutting our social safety net programs, and increased our investment in the war on drugs…we tacitly accept a public health issue turned into a criminal justice issue…we tacitly accept criminalizing poverty and creating a culture where Black and Brown bodies are pathologized, demonized, and dehumanized. I think it’s important to note that we are only now seeing a shift in public opinion on harsh drug laws, not coincidentally, has this shift only occurred with the ongoing opioid crisis that has largely impacted white communities across the country.

It is with this in mind, that we, as white people of conscience, must force a change of course, and move away from normalizing the investment in jails and divestment in communities. We must put an end to racist policies and coded language that is used to justify locking people in cages instead of providing the social support needed for people who are struggling to survive. It is up to us to say we will not stand idly by and allow billions of our tax dollars to go toward incarceration, only to lock people out of society upon release, effectively being destined to second class citizenship thereafter.

We, as white people, must create the consciousness shift in millions of fellow white people in Los Angeles and across America — to say that we will no longer collude with the fragmentation that this white supremacist system has created. We will all benefit when our solidarity is strong, when we interrupt those who sow divisions based on race, class, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability. When we recognize that our liberation is bound together…that the weight of oppressive systems will only be broken when we act. When we act together. It is time to bring an end to jail expansion in Los Angeles county and beyond. To all who care about justice, this is your issue. We must lay the groundwork to defeat all manifestations of racism in this country, with the expansion of the prison industrial complex being an egregious example of that which must be stopped.

As white people, we must demand that our county and our country do better than this. It is time that we reevaluate our priorities and our values that allow white people to feel an investment in jails is worthy over an investment in life. Let us together reimagine what a world free of cages could look like. If you had $3.5 Billion to solve pressing issues in Los Angeles County, how would you use it?

Please sign the Justice LA petition to demand the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors redirects jail expansion funds. For more ways to take action, follow the campaign on @justiceLAnow on social media platforms.

Dahlia Ferlito is a co-founder of White People 4 Black Lives (WP4BL), a white anti-racist collective and activist project of the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere (AWARE-LA); WP4BL operates within a national network of white anti-racists called Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) and is rooted in acting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter: Los Angeles.

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Op-Ed: JusticeLA Fights LA County’s Jail Expansion Plan

Op-Ed: JusticeLA Fights LA County’s Jail Expansion Plan

By Jason David, White People 4 Black Lives

Jason David is co-founder of AWARE-LA, an all-volunteer grassroots racial justice organization of white anti-racists working to challenge racism in transformative alliance with people of color. White People 4 Black Lives is the organizing wing of AWARE-LA.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved a jail expansion plan that will cost an estimated $3.5 billion. That is an extraordinary amount of money to waste on the caging of human beings, especially when we can invest those resources into providing greater access to affordable housing, jobs, health care, public education, and healthy food — critical elements that serve human needs and prove not only impactful on lowering recidivism rates, but promise far greater safety for all in the long run.

People of color, especially black people, who are disproportionately targeted and devastated by our current commitment to mass incarceration, have been fighting on behalf of their own well-being and the safety of their families and communities. It is time that white people, and especially wealthy and middle-class white people, see that the fight against mass incarceration and criminal injustice is our fight as well.

As Ibram Kendi points out so poignantly in his definitive history of racist thinking in the United States, Stamped From the Beginning, dominant groups don’t actively perpetuate or passively support oppressive systems primarily because of hatred or ignorance — we do so because we believe those systems ultimately benefit us and we have internalized racist ideas that justify inequities. I can admit that my own perception has been severely distorted when it comes to crime and safety, and for too long I have internalized negative portrayals of people of color as dangerous and believed “tough on crime” policies coupled with the punishment of isolation has made me safer.

It is a tough pill to swallow when we have to analyze the ways in which we conform to the very ideas and institutions we adamantly oppose. We do, however, have an opportunity — urgent and time-sensitive — to act in solidarity with communities directly impacted by discriminatory and dehumanizing jail systems.

Los Angeles County already has the largest jail system in the world. On average, there are 17,500 prisoners in the county jail system on any given day and 80% of them are Black or Latino. This county also has the harshest bail system in the United States. Just over half of the L.A. County jail population has yet to stand trial or be sentenced for a crime, primarily due to the fact that people cannot pay for high bail amounts. Research shows that people with mental health conditions inevitably get worse in jails. The chances of developing a mental health condition for people with no previous history of mental health issues doubles once they are incarcerated.

We know that incarceration doesn’t rehabilitate and that the vast majority of people behind bars are there for non-violent drug offenses and criminalized behaviors reflective of poverty, such as not affording bail, inability to pay debts incurred via penalties and fines for infractions, and a slew of laws targeting homeless people. This is why California voters have signaled a clear shift away from incarceration and toward alternatives to sentencing, such as passing Propositions 47 (reduced penalties for some crimes), 36 (drug treatment instead of jail), and 57 (early release for non-violent offenses). Unfortunately, much of the money earmarked for diversion are funneled into the Sheriff’s Department and are not used to advance the true spirit and aim of the propositions. This highlights the need to sustain our civic engagement and build a powerful base of support after we step outside of the voting booth.

So why do we still build jails? Why do we still lock millions of people behind bars?

Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, has stated that slavery did not end, it merely evolved. He traces a line of racial terror through United States history connecting slavery, lynching, segregation and mass incarceration. Michelle Alexander, a civil rights attorney and author of The New Jim Crow, frames a powerful argument with well-researched statistics and a thorough examination of laws and political trends that posits mass incarceration as merely the revamped version of segregation — a system for disenfranchising the black community under legal auspices. Ava DuVernay’s brilliant documentary 13th builds on these arguments and traces a haunting chronology through United States history, in which slavery was never actually abolished but instead kept alive through a constitutional loophole and deceptive projects such as the War on Drugs.

This framing of the problem before us has significant implications for the role we as white people play in relationship to the presence of — and plans to expand — jail systems.

Perhaps just as significant as the actions of enslavers, lynchers, rabid segregationists, and lobbyists for the prison industry are the everyday acts of complicity and complacency by white and wealthy people who, for many reasons, think these systems are justified in some way, think these systems don’t directly affect us, or think that we cannot do something to change such an overbearing problem. It has largely been the passive acceptance and permission of white people that has allowed for violent atrocities and acts of oppression to be systemically enacted on people of color.

I recently heard Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me, speak to the ways in which black people have carried the struggle for racial justice for centuries. And ultimately, Coates suggested, it will be on white people to set “a standard” for ourselves. Just as certain brave — albeit far from perfect — white abolitionists challenged the young nation’s behemoth economic engine of slavery because of its brutal inhumanity, we white people are called upon again to take action against the current manifestation of that system which we must still see as a violation of our most basic standards of human decency.

Many of us who are concerned about mass incarceration tend to feel like the problem is so massive or so far beyond our reach that we cannot do anything to change it. On the other hand, our voice is critical not just in opposing prison and jail expansion projects, but in calling for diversion programs and services that can be located in our very own communities. In fact, it is so often because we prefer to cast away those so easily maligned and quickly labeled problems or threats to the community that we throw our implicit support behind what has become a carceral state — a vast network of jails and prisons that has grown steadily despite reductions in crime and risen in priority as investment in education has dropped.

Because of these startling realities and this haunting history, I have joined a powerful new coalition looking to halt this jail expansion project and reinvest the money in community well-being. JusticeLA represents a number of grassroots organizations and grounds its work in the lives, voices, and aspirations of individuals and families directly impacted by incarceration. I will be joining them on January 11th for a town hall meeting at the Hollywood United Methodist Church at 7pm and I encourage you to join me.

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Op-Ed: Reinvesting in Our Communities

Op-Ed: Reinvesting in Our Communities

By Matt Bogdanow, White People 4 Black Lives for LA Progressive

I have, admittedly, never been to jail. I’ve never spent months waiting in a detention center, unable to post bail because my family didn’t have an extra $30,000 lying around. I’ve never been pressured to take a plea bargain because, regardless of my guilt, spending three years in prison sounds better than thirty. I’ve never had to re-enter society branded with the modern day Scarlet Letter—my voting rights decimated, my relationships strained, my employment options limited beyond belief. So I don’t know how hard it is. And in this era of seemingly infinite battles—to save our national parks, to support immigrant communities, to protect net neutrality, to empower silenced voices—it’s hard to know where to begin, especially with something as daunting as “dismantling the prison-industrial complex.”

In September I was invited to attend the JusticeLA campaign launch outside the L.A. County Board of Supervisors office downtown. As I read the list of partnering organizations I was in awe: ACLU, Black Lives Matter, Immigrant Youth Coalition, L.A. Voice, Our Revolution L.A., Showing Up For Racial Justice, and dozens more. At the time I didn’t know anything about the county’s new $3.5 billion jail plan, but this felt like my sister, my best friend, my coworker, and my dentist all telling me to watch the same TV show: I should at least give it a shot.

The kickoff event created a stunning image: hundreds of activists in orange “L.A. County Jail” shirts standing atop actual jail beds on Temple Street, directly in front of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration. I grabbed a sign displaying this unsettling statistic: Black people are 8% of L.A.’s population and 30% of those incarcerated. In many ways, it was reminiscent of the Women’s March—a crowd of seemingly disparate groups taking to the streets to make their voices heard. But while the Women’s March was defined by the sheer scope of its message (Save Our Parks! Protect Our Reproductive Rights! Immigrants Are Welcome Here! Not My President!), the JusticeLA launch was notable for its unwavering focus. ACLU, Black Lives Matter, Immigrant Youth Coalition, and the rest of the organizations were not there to promote different messages; they were united behind a singular goal: to stop Los Angeles from spending $3.5 billion dollars on new jails, and instead focus on local services to prevent our neighbors from landing behind bars in the first place.

Jails ostensibly exist to keep us safe, but from everything I’ve read, no studies have been able to prove that increased incarceration has a meaningful impact on reducing crime. So then what does? A living wage, access to holistic health services, stable housing, and (perhaps most compellingly) educational opportunity. While the national recidivism rate is over 75%, it drops below 6% for people who obtain bachelor’s degrees. Dots begin to connect: the cost per year to incarcerate one young person in a “probation camp” is $247,236, which could provide a year of full tuition at Cal State to fifty students.

On Thursday, January 11th at 7:00pm, JusticeLA, along with WP4BL, ACLU, and Hollywood UMC, are hosting a Town Hall at the Hollywood United Methodist Church Sanctuary. Panelists include Patrisse Cullors (Co-founder JusticeLA and Black Lives Matter), Mark-Anthony Johnson (JusticeLA), Kim McGill (Youth Justice Coalition), Peter Eliasberg (ACLU), and Kelly Lytle Hernandez (UCLA Bunche Center/Million Dollar Hoods).

I will be in the audience, ready to learn more about the jail system and how I can be useful in reclaiming $3.5 billion dollars and reinvesting in our community. You can sign up to attend here: RSVP Justice LA Town Hall —I’ll save you a seat!

Original Source: https://www.laprogressive.com/justicela.

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#JailBedDrop Reminds Angelinos of Those Incarcerated During Holiday Season

#JailBedDrop Reminds Angelinos of Those Incarcerated During Holiday Season

Twas’ the morning before Christmas and JusticeLA and L.A. area artists collaborated to place over 50 jail beds throughout L.A. County as a reminder of the thousands of people incarcerated in L.A. County jails during the holiday season.  Kicking off #JailBedDrop, JusticeLA co-founder Patrisse Cullors joined new media artist Jasmine Nyende in the historic Los Angeles African American community of Baldwin Hills at the intersection of Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvds. in an effort to remind Angelinos getting in their last day of shopping before the Christmas holiday that for millions of people in America and thousands in L.A. County, Christmas will be spent in a jail cell and without their families loved ones simply because they are poor and cannot afford the high cost of bail.  The jail beds are also being used to further the conversation around the County’s decision to invest $3.5 billion dollars into expanding the world’s largest jail system instead of community-based alternatives to incarceration.

“Los Angeles County is embarking on one of the largest jail construction projects in the history of jails and prisons,” said JusticeLA co-founder Patrisse Cullors.  “JusticeLA has come together in our latest art action to highlight those who are most impacted by incarceration over the holidays. This holiday season millions of incarcerated people won’t see loved ones, enjoy a holiday dinner with family or spend time with their children.  Instead they will sit in a jail cell.  This jail bed action is to reminder to all of this holiday season about what we should be investing in and that is community-based alternatives to jails that keep families together.”

JusticeLA advocates for funding to go into community-based alternatives and not jails to address the communities with the highest rates of imprisonment.  Those communities tend to be primarily poor and working class communities of color that are also disproportionately high in unemployment, home foreclosures, school cutbacks, inadequate access to healthcare and lower-than- average life expectancies.

New media artist Jasmine Nyende added, “This project is about showing love and compassion to my family. Our community has been separated, caged and sold off for generations.  I hope this bed inspires people to write and think of their loved ones in prison or jail.”

In addition to Baldwin Hills, jail beds were placed in over 50 other locations by local artists throughout Los Angeles County including Inglewood, Compton, Palmdale, Lancaster, San Fernando Valley, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Manhattan Beach. Each artist worked with different topics around incarceration including mental illness, women, People of Color, youth, LGBTQ and more.

Follow the #JailBedDrop on Instagram!

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“This project provided a way for me to express my feelings about the prison industrial complex from the perspective of a loved one,” explained Cole James, one of of the featured artists whose jail bed is on display in Carson at the South Bay Pavillion.  “The loss, longing and destruction caused by the system of penitentiaries extends far beyond their bars. It is shredding the happiness of families.”

Artist Qwazi added, “My brother is an inmate at Wasco State Prison. A brother’s bond is unexplainable, but the distance set between us is fully tangible. The thin glass that separates our conversation is endless and the anxiety of it gets the best of both of us. His children will be teenagers the next