Anatomy of the Jails Commission Jail LA County Board of Supervisors LA County Jail Sheriff Lee Baca

ANATOMY OF A JAILS COMMISSION: PART 0 – the Board of Supervisors Approves 7-Member Commission on Jail Reform

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the motion to create a Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence. The commission will be empowered to dig into and review the ballooning jails abuse scandal and to make recommendations for reform. It is to report back to the Board within 180 days of its first meeting.

When the motion to create the independent commission was announced on Friday by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, with Mark Ridley-Thomas as the motion’s co-author, it originally called for five commission members. The idea was that each Supe would nominate one of the five.

Over the weekend, however, thinking on the motion was refined. It was suggested that having only five members wasn’t quite enough. After discussion of various possible sizes for the proposed commission, the number was finalized at seven on Tuesday with a floor amendment from Ridley-Thomas before the motion came to a vote and was passed unanimously.

The way it will work is as follows: the Supes will each choose one commission member, and then those first five will select another two to join them from pool of names compiled by the Board. The board members are to submit their nominees by November 1.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich announced yesterday that he intends to nominate retired Federal Court Judge Dickran M. Tevrizian as his appointee to the commission.

Yaroslavsky and Ridley-Thomas have both talked about the importance of the commission to “restore public confidence” in the operation of the LA County’s jails.

Of course, before confidence can be restored, fundamental reform must take place in the culture and the operation of the jails. This commission has the potential to help push for that needed reform.

(Here’s a copy of the original motion without amendments.)


A motion by Supervisor Gloria Molina that requires a list of jail reforms was also approved unanimously on Tuesday. The list of common sense reforms have been long suggested by LA County Special Counsel Merrick Bobb and Office of Independent Review head, Mike Genacco—but somehow never instituted or, in some cases, fully enforced.

Among the new requirements are the following:

– The instillation within 30 days of the surveillance cameras for the jails that Sheriff Baca admits have been sitting around in boxes for months (and that we reported were planned for Men’s Central Jail, but never funded back in 2006).

– The elimination of the use of heavy flashlights as batons used to subdue inmates.

– The elimination of steel-toed footware for deputies working the jails. Why? Because inmates like Juan Pablo Reyes report they were kicked by deputies wearing steel-toed boots with serious injuries resulting. (See WitnessLA story DANGEROUS JAILS)

– A prohibition against all head strikes, unless the standard for “lethal force” has been met.

– The rotation of deputies between floors at least once every six months in order to break up deputy “gangs.” (This was the reform that WitnessLA’s Matt Fleischer reported Undersheriff Paul Tanaka blocked in 2006 when the then head of Men’s Central Jail tried to institute it.)

— The enforcement of the existing, but roundly ignored, anti-retaliation policy against inmates who speak to the ACLU, lawyers, or reporters, or activists about jail conditions.

— The exclusion of deputies accused of excessive force or their supervisors from being present when inmates who have been on the receiving end of said excessive force are interviewed. (In other words, the armed and badge-wearing person who beat you up doesn’t get to be in the room giving you the hairy eye when you’re being asked to explain the circumstances of the alleged abuse—as has been documented repeatedly to have occurred. The fact that someone has to tell the LASD that they need to institute this practice is the astonishing thing.)

— The requirement that jails medical personnel report all suspicious inmate injuries to the Internal Affairs Unit or the jail captain. (Another policy that you’d think would be sorta obvious—unless one wants to intimidate medical personnel into hiding things. I’m just saying.)

And there are more. Good motion. Let’s hope the Supes can make sure its requirements are enforced.

UPDATE: Dennis Romero at LA Weekly just posted his own nicely wry rundown on the two motions.

Photo from the AP

Leave a Comment