March 30, 2023
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors:
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration
500 West Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Via email: email@example.com
Sent via email
Re: Los Angeles County to Take Actionable Next Steps to Depopulate and Decarcerate the Los Angeles County Jails: Granting Local Authority, Advocating for Court and State Support, and Legislative Changes
Honorable members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors:
We are writing in regard to the motion “Los Angeles County to Take Actionable Next Steps to Depopulate and Decarcerate the Los Angeles County Jails: Granting Local Authority, Advocating for Court and State Support, and Legislative Changes,” introduced by Supervisors Solis and Horvath on March 29, 2023. We oppose this motion and ask that you do the same. We appreciate Supervisor Solis and Horvath’s urgency in exploring all possible avenues to address the consent decree and close Men’s Central Jail without a replacement; however, we have significant concerns that this motion is not consistent with the Care First vision, and does not address – and may even interfere with – the County achieving important priorities necessary to realizing that vision. We hope you will consider our concerns in determining how to move forward.
We support the county pursuing state legislative changes.
LA County’s ability to implement meaningful decarceration has continued to be stifled by state policy, as well as the policies of the LA County Superior Court. We strongly support directives #4 and #18; however, directive #18d could be strengthened by advocating that the state not only mandate that LASC and LASD share data with a county department, but that the data be made publicly available.
This motion does not reflect good governance.
While we share the urgency to act quickly to implement comprehensive strategies that reduce the jail population, the scope of the motion and the process in which it was developed failed to include input from critical stakeholders and county departments. 29 directives are included in this motion. The volume of directives without a frontloaded, intentional process for input from community and relevant county stakeholders that have brought us the progress that has been achieved towards the closure of Men’s Central Jail over the past several years, runs contrary to the February 28,2023 motion, Improving Los Angeles County Board Governance to Strengthen Equity and Transparency, which your Board unanimously approved. This kitchen sink approach to policy making is exactly what that motion attempted to curtail. Failing to shape this motion in line with recommendations from the community undermines the intent of the February 28th motion and the collaborative spirit of the Care First initiative.
This motion creates models and sets precedent that the county will have to dismantle.
Central to the Care first vision is shifting away from a reliance on the carceral system and towards systems of care. This motion seeks to leverage and expand the power of the Sheriff’s Department to release people, and in so doing, expands the already widespread use of electronic monitoring in LA County. Electronic monitoring is not an alternative to incarceration, it is just another form of incarceration. The use of EM actually leads to re-incarceration because of all the violations associated with EM supervision. Furthermore, it is a more restrictive condition that is used to regulate people who would have otherwise been released without those restrictions. Cities like Chicago have found that when the use of EM increased, the jail population also went up, instead of the predicted decrease. This would likely be true for Los Angeles too, which would be contrary to the intent of this motion to decarcerate. EM also presents numerous barriers to obtaining and keeping employment and attending to and caring for one’s dependents, which again would be contrary to the principles of a care first approach.
The motion’s proposed model fails to honestly recognize the ongoing threat of Deputy Gangs.
Directive #10 positions LASD as central to the development and coordination of a plan to implement “community services programs at each LASD station.” The directive runs contrary to foundational strategy #1 of the Care First roadmap, which instructs community based services to be scaled up through decentralized, coordinated services hubs, and capacity building efforts. The strategy also emphasizes removing barriers to treatment.
The motion undermines this foundational strategy by ignoring the Civilian Oversight Commission’s scathing report on deputy gangs as well as the commissions recommendations recently approved by the Board. The Special Counsel makes clear in the report that not only do deputy gangs exist, they currently “engage in harmful activities in several of the Department’s patrol stations and bureaus.” Twelve deputy gangs have been identified as operating “primarily at patrol stations.” Directive #10 dangerously assumes that deputy gangs will not produce significant roadblocks to the coordination of care despite concrete evidence that their influence over LASD station activities has been devastating to communities. The directive is out of touch with deep seeded distrust that communities hold as the result of the decades of harm deputy gangs have brought upon our communities at the custody and station level.
This motion does not align with the Board’s commitment to implement a Care First System.
March of 2020, the Board adopted foundational strategies found in the Care First, Jails Last Report, including, Strategy 3, “Support and deliver meaningful pre-trial release and diversion services.” That strategy includes the following recommendations:
Recommendation #56: Institute a presumption of pretrial release for all individuals, especially people with clinical behavioral health disorders, whenever possible and appropriate, coupled with warm handoffs to community-based systems of care, to provide targeted services, if necessary, to help individuals remain safely in the community and support their return to court.
Recommendation #55: Develop a strengths and needs-based system of pretrial release through an independent, cross-functional entity, situated outside of law enforcement, to coordinate voluntary needs and strengths assessments expeditiously upon booking, and to provide relevant information to court officers to make informed release decisions.
Recommendation #53: Improve and expand return-to-court support services to reduce failures to appear.
By centering the Sheriff’s Department in the key strategy for pretrial decarceration, the motion fails to live up to the ATI pretrial recommendations above, which focus on expanding pretrial services through a care-based approach, independent of law enforcement, which would be consistent with best-evidence and the most effective programs across the country. The actual provision of services, particularly those that support return to court, is not captured in the motion’s directives and should be the focus of the Board’s policies and budget priorities.
Further, the motion itself does not address the funding needed to scale up existing programs and develop the community based programs needed to facilitate pretrial service provision in a supportive non-carceral setting. Instead, the motion relies on harmful carceral approaches like split sentencing, which not only still subjects individuals to jail time, but also to the ever-present surveillance threat of a probation department that has proven itself time and time again to set people up to fail by being overly punitive and failing to see the humanity of people who are caught up in the system.
This motion fails to include accountability mechanisms.
Noticeably absent from this motion is a concrete timeline for the closure of Men’s Central Jail and benchmarks to measure progress. The Jail Closure Implementation Team was established almost two years ago and there has been no impact on the jail population. In fact, in that time, conditions in the jail have only become ever more dangerous, as evidenced by the three deaths that occurred in the past 10 days. JCIT’s failure to initiate meaningful progress is in part due to the lack of measurable benchmarks for population reduction and lack of accountability structures created by the County. A motion that takes seriously the crisis inside of MCJ must explicitly commit to the closure of MCJ in 18-24 months as outlined in the Men’s Central Jail Closure Report.
The intent behind this motion is well received: there is a crisis in LA County jails and the county must consider various strategies for decarceration. However, the methods and strategies proposed by this motion are not the ones that will bring about safe and effective closure of Men’s Central Jail, nor are they the strategies that will invest in the long-term well-being of justice involved populations. It is deeply disappointing that community advocates who have worked for years on alternatives to incarceration, pretrial reform, and jail closure were not consulted in the drafting of this motion. Board offices cannot continue to draft such consequential motions in silos without considering the input of community experts and other relevant stakeholders who hold the expertise which will inform the implementation of effective jail closure. For the reasons outlined above, we strongly oppose this motion and respectfully request that you do the same.
The JusticeLA Coalition