The L.A. Jail System Might be Changing Soon
In August 2018, the Reform L.A. Jails Coalition turned in nearly a quarter of a million signatures to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder to get reform legislation onto California’s Presidential Primary ballot in 2020. This was an impressive feat, considering the group gathered 100,000 more signatures than required by law to file a ballot measure. This measure, if passed by voters, will provide more oversight for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and push for funding and research into alternatives to incarceration.
The new ballot measure came about as a result of the efforts of Reform L.A. Jails Coalition, a group that organized itself to strengthen oversight of the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. To understand how the movement started, it is important to look at what happened over the last few years to create this need.
The 2017 L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Jail Abuse Scandal
In 2011, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigated reports of abuse inside the Men’s Central Jail in L.A. The Men’s Central Jail is run by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LACSD) – so this became a probe into the Sheriff’s Department itself. During this investigation, numerous members of LACSD tried to cover up reports of abuse and other allegations. This resulted in a number of arrests and criminal charges in 2017 for obstruction of justice, in addition to charges against perpetrators of violence against inmates within the jail. The Los Angeles County Sheriff, Leroy “Lee” Baca, was himself convicted of obstruction.
The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission
Following this scandal and the convictions of more than 20 current or former members of LACSD, the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission was created. This body of nine civilians who are not part of the Department is tasked with overseeing the behavior of the Department. The Commission’s goal is greater transparency, and to provide a connection between the Sheriff’s Department and the general public.
In its first year, however, there have been concerns that the Commission lacks any real power. There is already conflict between LACSD and the Commission, and those in favor of the Commission want to see it given actual authority. With this in mind, the Reform L.A. Jails Coalition set out to give the Commission more power and shift the goals of criminal justice in Los Angeles.
Reform L.A. Jails Coalition Ballot Goals
The ballot measure has two goals: the first is subpoena power, which would let the Commission subpoena records from the Sheriff’s Department and compel testimony from deputies and other Department employees. The Commission would not have the power to hire or fire members of the Sheriff’s Department, but subpoena power would allow them to have a better look inside LACSD’s activities and officer behavior.
The second goal of the ballot measure is to research and invest in alternatives to incarceration. Rather than building more jails in L.A. County, the ballot measure would use funds to research alternative methods aimed at rehabilitation and crime prevention. This would include things like youth programs, more funding for public education, and affordable housing. These alternatives would also focus on helping the mentally ill and homeless stay out of jail and receive treatment rather than incarceration.
The Importance of a Defense Lawyer
Alternatives to prison are beneficial, but whether L.A. prosecutors will embrace these measures or continue to push for incarceration is yet to be seen. Anyone who is taken into custody for questioning, especially after being read his or her Miranda Rights, should immediately ask for a lawyer. Police investigators are trained in complex psychological interrogation techniques aimed at breaking down a suspect – and these can be used even when someone does not realize he or she is a suspect. False confessions are usually the result of someone trying to be helpful. The moment you find yourself sitting in a room being questioned, stop answering all questions and ask for an attorney immediately.
While this ballot measure may eventually provide better oversight of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, the need for a skilled L.A. criminal defense team after you have been arrested is in no way reduced by this measure. To consult with a team of the finest defense lawyers Los Angeles has to offer, please contact Werksman Jackson Hathaway & Quinn LLP at (213) 688-0460. We provide a free initial consultation.