Other Los Angeles Jail Plan-Related Stories, an Inmate Suicide at Twin Towers, More Discretionary Power for California Judges Sentencing Teens, and Arts Return to State PrisonsMay 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
MORE ON THE VANIR LOS ANGELES JAIL PROPOSAL, LA’S HANDLING OF MENTALLY ILL INMATES (AND AN ARGUABLY PREVENTABLE INMATE SUICIDE AT TWIN TOWERS)
Yesterday we reported on the latest Los Angeles sheriff candidate debate as it related to plans being considered by the Board of Supervisors to tear down Men’s Central Jail and replace it with a costly new facility. The main problems are as follows: the decision should wait until a new sheriff is elected, the proposed plans do not address the issue of how to provide better treatment for more than 3000 mentally ill inmates, and other counties are successfully diverting mentally ill inmates to community treatment (while LA County thus far has no plans to do so).
KPCC’s Frank Stoltze also had good coverage of the sheriff’s debate. Here’s a clip:
“I think the new sheriff needs to be consulted on what we’re going to do with our jail system,” said current assistant sheriff Todd Rogers during a candidates’ debate Sunday at the Westside Jewish Community Center. The primary election is June 3. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, the top two face each other in November.
“I think we have plenty of jail beds,” Rogers added.
“We need to take a step back,” said another candidate, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell. “A new sheriff is a major stakeholder in this.”
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider the expansion plan Tuesday.
McDonnell also pointed out that the U.S. Department of Justice is considering suing L.A. County over its handling of mentally ill inmates, which could lead to new federally required reforms under a consent decree. “Part of that consent decree may be mandates as to what our jails look like,” McDonnell said.
And in a tragically timely illustration of why a building is not going to solve LA County’s problematic handling of the mentally ill…
A Twin Towers inmate, Li Zhu, placed on suicide watch strangled himself during a period of nearly three hours in which deputies reportedly failed to check on him. While deputies are required to look in on suicidal inmates every fifteen minutes, deputies allegedly last checked on Zhu at 6:46p.m. the evening after his arrest, and did not check again until he was found dead at 9:30p.m.
KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:
An autopsy report by the L.A. County Coroner’s Department says Zhu, 68, was arrested on January 8 on suspicion of murdering his daughter-in-law, Xiaolin Li. The Arcadia police department arrested Li Zhu after finding Li Xiaolin stabbed to death, in an apartment where the two lived, along with a number of family members.
When he arrived in L.A. County’s jail system, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department placed Zhu on suicide watch in a Twin Towers cell due to having attempted “suicide in China during the late 1990’s by jumping off a building…and also telling family members that he did not want to live anymore after the assault on his daughter-in-law.”
Deputies are supposed to check on inmates on suicide watch every 15 minutes. The last reported check on Zhu, according to the coroner’s report, was at 6:46pm He was found dead at 9:30pm when a deputy attending to an inmate in a neighboring cell noticed Zhu sitting at an odd angle on the floor. A surveillance video viewed later showed him last walking around his cell at 8:18pm.
According to the coroner’s report, Zhu had torn off a strip of the side trim seam from his mattress, created a noose, and strangled himself by attaching the noose to the bed. There was blood on the floor and Zhu had an open bite mark and bruises on his arms. No suicide note was found.
Suicide watch protocols in L.A. County’s jails stem from an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice the county entered into in the late 1990’s, after federal inspectors found “constitutional deficiencies” in the jails. Allegations included use of excessive force on mentally ill inmates, inadequate mental health screening, and inadequate suicide prevention.
An LA Times editorial further explains why, although Men’s Central Jail needs to be torn down and replaced, a new jail facility is not going to end LA’s over-incarceration of a mentally ill inmate population that would experience better outcomes in community treatment. Here’s a clip:
Even with the Justice Department breathing down their necks over poor treatment of ill inmates, the supervisors asked for mental health treatment plans not from experts in recidivism or treatment but from a jail construction firm. The proposals naturally revolve around constructing jails.
Let’s be clear: Men’s Central does indeed need to be put out of its misery and replaced with a facility that includes treatment space for mentally ill offenders who are too dangerous to be diverted to community treatment. But any competent study must discuss protocols for distinguishing between those who could and those who could not be successfully and safely treated in community clinics. It would then project how many costly jail beds for the mentally ill will still be needed, and how much savings can instead be reaped by using a wiser non-jail diversion program. And it would be based on diversion programs already underway — if only the county would actually begin some. Other jurisdictions do it, and they save money and stop sick people from cycling in and out of jail. When will L.A. wise up?
Go read the rest.
CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT GIVES JUDGES MORE DISCRETIONARY POWER IN SENTENCING JUVENILES
On Monday, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled to give judges more discretionary leeway in sentencing juveniles convicted of certain crimes for which judges would normally hand down a sentence of life-without-parole. The decision will give California judges more room to sentence teenagers to a lesser sentence of 25-to-life.
The LA Times’ Maura Dolan has more on the high court’s decision. Here are some clips:
Prior to the unanimous ruling, California law had been interpreted as requiring judges to lean toward life without parole for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds convicted of certain offenses. The decision overturned decades of lower-court rulings.
The court’s action gave two men who were 17 at the time they killed the opportunity to have their sentences reconsidered by trial judges.
The court said the sentences should be reviewed because they were handed down before the court clarified state law and before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that judges must consider a juvenile’s immaturity and capacity for change.
Some juvenile offenders became subject to life without parole when voters passed Proposition 115, the 1990 “Crime Victims Justice Reform Act.”
State appeals’ courts ruled that the law required judges to favor imposing life without parole over a life sentence that allowed for release after 25 years.
For two decades, those rulings stood.
But Monday’s decision said the lower courts had erred in the interpretation of the law.
“Proposition 115 was intended to toughen penalties for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder by making them eligible for life without parole upon a finding of one or more special circumstances,” Liu wrote.
But he said neither the wording of the ballot measure nor any of the official analyses resolved whether “the initiative was intended to make life without parole the presumptive sentence.” The court concluded it was not.
ARTS IN CORRECTIONS TO RETURN TO CALIFORNIA PRISONS WITH RENEWED STATE FUNDING
Late last week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation made a welcome announcement that it would be spending $1 million on bringing art programs back to state prisons.
Here’s a clip from the CDCR announcement:
The Arts in Corrections programs will offer an array of performing, literary and visual arts disciplines, such as theater, music, creative writing, poetry, painting, drawing and sculpture.
“Research has shown that structured arts programs improve inmates’ problem-solving skills and self-discipline and increase their patience and their ability to work with others,” said CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard. “These programs also direct inmates’ energy in a positive direction, promote positive social interaction and lower tension levels, resulting in a safer environment for inmates and staff.”
CDCR has a long history of providing arts programs, as institutions and community organizations have partnered to offer visual and performing arts programs to inmates. CDCR has committed $1 million funding to add structured, contracted Arts-in-Corrections programs in select state prisons. CDCR is also committed to a second year of support for fiscal year 2014-15. The funds will be administered by the California Arts Council. Use of funds is subject to review by state control agencies.
“This investment will help inmates develop skills that may help them get jobs when they are released, which would help reduce recidivism and victimization,” Beard added.