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Fixing the System: “So Whatcha Gonna Do About It?”


(NOTE: USC grad j student and IJJ research associate, Amanda Becker took excellent notes on this session, which are what I’m working from in this post.)

Thursday was the last day of the IJJ Criminal Justice seminar
and featured the moment where the rubber met the road—or at least talked about meeting the road.

(Could I possibly torture that metaphor any more?)

For two and a half days, nearly all the main players in LA’s criminal justice system, and many of their top critics, got together on panels, at lunch, and sometimes in the audience, to talk about the fact that LA is still the gang capital of the world and that, after nearly three decades of using imprisonment and punishment as its primary public safety strategy, California’s “incarceration addiction” is threatening to break the state.

The final panel was called: Moving from Vision to Action, What are LA’s Leaders Willing to do Jointly to Reform the System?

The panel consisted of LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, LA District Attorney Steve Cooley, LA Public Defender Michael Judge, LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger (one of those likely to be short listed to replace Bratton when the time comes), California State Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, Chief LA County Probation Officer Robert Taylor, and Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, Marvin Southard.

Joe Domanick, the moderator and prime mover behind the conference,
asked everyone to say what they were willing to commit to doing in order to reform LA’s—and California’s—- justice system.

The best of the answers are below.

GLORIA ROMERO said, “We’ve been dialoguing for a long time. I think we need to get another room here and figure out, how do we get to the electorate? This is a political issue. This is about a dialog with the voters. ”

MIKE JUDGE pretty much agreed that real reform required legislative changes and lawmakers weren’t going to stick their collective necks out without voter pressure. “What has to happen is that the electorate has to endorse this,” he said. “The public has to be convinced this is a wise investment, an investment that will make them safe, and that we aren’t just spending money.”

STEVE COOLEY professed himself
unworried about the incarceration rate, yet was unhappy about the lack of rehabilitation within the prisons and jails. “We need to figure out a way to salvage some of the people who are sent to state prison according to the law. We’re losing an opportunity and we’re paying a heavy, heavy price.”

SOUTHARD AND TAYLOR talked about the problem of LA County jail
being used as the state’s largest mental health facility.

BACA pointed out the fact that the public doesn’t have a lot of trust
in the criminal justice systems and that “transparency is needed. Without transparency you won’t find out where the obstacles are. ”

EARL PAYSIGNER threw an interesting curve ball: “I find it fascinating when I think about it here compared
to the war in the middle east, today we have spent nearly 500 billion dollars in that war effort and we have compelling problems here at home.”

Well, yeah.


IN SHORT, while they were a sincere group, nobody really committed to anything—at least nothing concrete.
But they all seemed to be willing to sit down again and try to figure out how to get to solid ground. And that’s progress.

FOR FURTHER INFO check here to see KPCC’s Frank Stoltz reporting and here to read Bill Boyarsky’s LA Observed take on Wednesday’s journalists’ roundtable.
…and here to read Victor Merina’s daily report on the conference.


  • EARL PAYSIGNER: “…today we have spent nearly 500 billion dollars in that war effort and we have compelling problems here at home.”

    Oh, screw that argument. It’s not like those dollars would have gone to L.A. to waste on its futile wars, and it’s not like all the money in the mideast is being wasted.

    I’ve heard things like this from liberals since the NASA moon missions, about how we’re wasting money on space rather than people. We received significant technology benefits from that to help everyone from top to bottom.

    There isn’t enough money in the world or taxes high enough to satisfy liberals who claim that their ideas would work only if they had more to spend. At least we got to the moon, which accomplished something as opposed to the nothing.

  • Was the amazing reduction in the crime discussed at all? I mean we’re at levels now not seen, in some cases, for thirty years.

  • Did anyone say anything new? What’s the point of these conferences? Would time be better spent, for example, picking up litter? Or a liter? I’ve seen enough of these conferences to have one wish: that participants who don’t answer specific questions be asked to leave the room immediately.

  • You haven’t been to Hoover and Jefferson Woody. And 28th st is like the Corniche. I won’t even go into the tables down at Julies. Yale can keep Mory’s!

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