Jack Leonard and Robert Faturechi, of the LA Times report that Sheriff Lee Baca may be planning to take the first big step in reorganizing his troubled jail system by moving part of the population of the antiquated and violence plagued Men’s Central Jail to the women’s jail in Lynwood.
This is welcome news.
Here’s a clip from the Times’ article:
Facing a federal investigation into allegations of brutality in his jails, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is considering a bold proposal to shutter a portion of the department’s most troubled lockup that has been plagued by inmate killings, excessive force by guards and poor supervision.
The plan would shift about 1,800 inmates, including many of the county’s most violent criminals, from the old section of Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, a sheriff’s jail commander said. The inmates would probably be moved to a newer facility in Lynwood that currently houses female inmates.
Indeed, there’s probably little question that the federal investigation into inmate abuse by deputies in the jails, a newly appointed “citizens” commission to look into the jails problems not to mention the ongoing press attention to the matter, have all been part of the reason that the Sheriff has wisely—at least for the moment— stopped hectoring the LA County Board of Supervisors for his much-desired $1.4 billion for new jail construction and is, instead, actively entertaining some of the alternative solutions that jails experts and reform advocates have long been suggesting.
As we mentioned in late January, the Sheriff has recently opened the door to an analysis of his jail housing problems by jail and prison population expert, Dr. James Austin—after resisting an Austin report in previous years, when the ACLU suggested such an analysis and even agreed to foot the bill for it.
Nevertheless, it is to Baca’s credit that now he appears to be embracing the notion of working with Austin.
Last week when I asked the Sheriff’s spokesman, Steve Whitmore, about Austin’s final report, he said it was not yet completed. However, I’ve seen some of Austin’s preliminary material, which includes an analysis of t the existing population in each of the county’s jail facilities, and then an assessment of the projected population over the next few years, taking into consideration the extra inmates coming to LA County because of the state’s realignment strategy.
The final report will also look at where and how in the existing facilities the jails’ population could most successfully—and safely—be housed, and how the population might also be reduced by instituting the kind of pretrial release system that has worked well for some other cities and counties.
Another report that the Sheriff was expected to draw on for his future plans is the 289-page study by the Vera institute, titled the Los Angeles County Jail Overcrowding Reduction Project, that had been previously commissioned by the LA County CEO’s office. (The report was first completed in 2008, then revised in Sept. 2011.)
(As with Austin’s work, the Vera report has a detailed section about pretrial release and how and why LA’ County’s bail system needs to be rethought. It shows with plenty of graphs and pie charts how the current system lets wealth, or lack thereof, decide who gets out on bail, and who languishes in a cell while they wait for trial, when the deciding factor really ought to be “risk assessment”—namely who is most at risk of not showing up for trial, or might be a danger to public safety.)
One thing that all concerned seem to agree upon is the need to close all or part of the decrepit and poorly designed Men’s Central Jail. At the last Jails Commission meeting on March 2, Mike Genneco of the Office of Independent Review and Merrick Bobb, the Special Counsel to the Board of Supervisors each told the commissioners how hard CJ is to oversee because of its floor plan in which cells are arranged in long rows, and thus not visible from a single vantage point. Lynwood, in contrast, is built with a more modern and effective floor plan that places a guard post at the center with a view of an entire cell block.
Both men explained that, while not the cause of the culture of violence that has been permitted to fester in Men’s Central Jail, the facility itself hasn’t helped the situation.
“It’s structurally a very, very difficult jail to manage,” said Merrick Bobb, citing the cell layout. “That’s why we’ve recommend cameras so many times over the years for Men’s Central Jails.”
As of the March 2 meeting, the camera installation had yet to be fully accomplished.
(NOTE: For some of the main points from Austin’s preliminary analysis go to the bottom of the post here.)
AND IN OTHER NEWS…. SOME REPORTS ON THE ARGUMENTS PRESENTED TUESDAY IN THE SUPREME COURT ON THE ISSUE OF SENTENCES OF LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE FOR JUVENILES.
You can listen to Nina Totenberg’s report here at NPR.
Doug Berman at Sentencing, Law and Policy (who wrote an amicus brief for the cases) wasn’t very encouraging in his analysis. Here’s how he began his report:
On reading the transcripts in the two juve LWOP cases that the Supreme Court heard today, Miller and Jackson, I’m struck by how confused the Justices are about how to frame the issues. The advocates certainly didn’t seem to give the Court the help it was looking for.
However, Adam Liptak at the New York Times had this to say:
…A majority of them appeared prepared to take an additional step in limiting such punishments, but it was not clear whether it would be modest or large. The court’s precedents have created so many overlapping categories — based on age, the nature of the offense and whether judges and juries have discretion to show leniency — that much of the argument was devoted to identifying the possible lines the court could draw.
In 2005, in Roper v. Simmons, the court abolished the juvenile death penalty, a decision that affected about 70 prisoners. “It is worth noting,” that decision said, “that the punishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is itself a severe sanction, in particular for a young person.”
LA TIMES’ JIM NEWTON TAKES A SECOND TRIP TO CHILD DEPENDENCY COURT
Please don’t miss Jim Newton’s terrific column on his second trip to child dependency court,since the court was ordered open to the press by Judge Michael Nash. (Judge Nash is my hero for the year for unilaterally moving to open the long-secret courts, over much shrieking objection.)
Here’s a clip about one particular case of the many Newton observed the day he went again to court:
…..Secrecy has become routine for Dependency Court, but as this example illustrates, it’s often hard to see whose interests that has served. When the case was called last week, the lawyer for the father moved to have me excluded on the vague grounds that it would intrude on her client’s privacy. But during a break in the proceedings, the father sought me out and complained that privacy has hidden the misdeeds and indifference of social workers and his own lawyers.
“They’re trying to make it seem like we haven’t learned anything from our parenting classes or our domestic-violence classes,” he said. “We don’t have anyone to raise a voice for us.” He said he feels victimized, not protected, by privacy, and he urged me to use his name: It’s Carlton Vereen.
Conversely, secrecy may have protected this father from scrutiny. It came out in court that he’s plowed through lawyers and caused repeated delays without anyone watching. And his actions have postponed resolution of the case — and stability for his daughter — for month after month.
So, if secrecy can be bad for the child and bad for the parents, for whom is it good? Well, it undeniably serves the interests of those whose judgments might be second-guessed.
Here are some of the summary points from Austin’s preliminary analysis, as presented in February to the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.
Population and Crime Trends
1. County resident population will increase over next 30 years but the at risk population will not increase.
2. Crime has decreased dramatically – it is what it was in the 1960s.
3. Misdemeanors arrests have declined slightly while felony arrests have declined more significantly.
4. The above population, crime and arrest trends suggest no increases in the jail admissions for the foreseeable future.
Jail Population Trends
5. Consistent with crime and arrest trends, the number of bookings to the jail system has dropped significantly from 260,000 in 1990 to 142,000 in 2011.
6. Similarly, the jail population has dropped from 22,000 to 14,800 toward the end of 2011.
7. There are over 400,000 bookings into the LASD system but only about 140,000 are eventually booked into the main jail system.
8. Of the 140,000 bookings, about 100,000 mutually exclusive people are admitted each year.
9. The average LOS [Length of Stay] is about 40 days – which is high compared to many other jail systems – national average is about 25 days.
10. About 1/3rd of the 140,000 bookings are released within 3 days – almost ½ are released within a week.
11. The majority of the daily inmate population (about 16,000) is comprised of pretrial felons (about 65%).
12. As of the end of 2011 there were about 7,000 empty jail beds – excluding Mira Loma which is used for ICE inmates, however that excess capacity will rapidly diminish due to AB 109.
Impact of AB 109 [realignment]
13. The jail population will rapidly increase by another 4,000 to 5,000 by the end of 2012 due to AB 109.
14. It is estimated that the AB 109 population will peak at about 6,250 by end of 2014.
15. The additional AB 109 inmate population could be safely neutralized reducing the pretrial population and placing low risk sentenced AB 109 under a community supervision program.
(Photo of inside MCJ from the LA Times 2009)