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There Are Serious Problems in California’s Jails

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on August 1, 2019

Since 2011, something strange has been going on in jails throughout California. For years, the California government has been struggling with the problem of incarceration overcrowding, and in 2003, under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the issue finally started to take priority. After several attempts to solve the crisis, including a $7.75 billion prison expansion, transferring prisoners out of state, and other measures, the governor was still finding it difficult to reach a middle ground between reducing prison populations and taking a hard line against violent offenders.

But in May 2011, the United States Supreme Court ordered the State of California to reduce its prison population size by 30,000 inmates or take any other measure necessary to reach an adequate level. This paved the way for the passing of AB109, the “Public Safety Realignment” law, which ended up redirecting thousands of convicted felons to county jails.

While it was at first an optimistic attempt at prison reform, this “realignment” strategy has had some deadly consequences.

Homicide Rates Are Rapidly Increasing

In the last seven years, most of California has seen an increase in the number of inmate-on-inmate homicides – by as much as 150%. In some counties, those homicide rates are quadruple what they had been prior to the reform.

Experts say that the government’s realignment campaign is a primary cause. Most people in county jails are either facing misdemeanor charges or awaiting trial, and the facilities are often ill-equipped to have inmates reside there longer than a year. Prisons, on the other hand, only hold those convicted of felonies. Many facilities have reported that those with misdemeanor charges have been given cellmates convicted of violent crimes. When these two populations are mixed, jail systems lack the resources to properly protect the jail population. This accounts for numerous cases in which homicide victims inside the jail were not discovered by authorities for several hours, sometimes even one full day. According to data from the state, the vast majority of people killed in jails in the last seven years were still awaiting trial.

The Jail System in Los Angeles County

In the years prior to California’s realignment, the jails in Los Angeles County saw as many inmate-on-inmate homicides as every other county in the state of California combined. After 2011, that number unexpectedly decreased. In fact, the Los Angeles jail system has not dealt with a single homicide behind its bars in the last three years – a drastically lower number than the rest of the state’s county jails.

The biggest difference between Los Angeles County jails and other facilities throughout the state is how authorities have gone about handling violence within the jail system. Rather than solely using the resources of the sheriff’s department to investigate inmate-on-inmate homicides, Los Angeles County uses an independent jail monitor and a civilian oversight board. After each reported case of violence within an LA County jail, there is a thorough evaluation of staff members to ensure that every safety protocol had been followed. Additionally, high-risk offenders, gang members, and other individuals are personally escorted by guards when leaving their cells.

These added measures appear to be the deciding factors when it comes to inmate-on-inmate homicide rates. Without proper procedures in place, jail populations that are mixed with prison populations have a higher risk of serious violent crimes.

After Being Arrested, Make Sure You Have a Great Lawyer

Nobody wants to be forced into a dangerous situation, especially when awaiting trial. At Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP, we are committed to providing the best possible criminal defense so that your rights and your freedom will be protected throughout the process. If you or a loved one is facing serious criminal charges, it’s important that you receive strong and experienced legal support. Don’t hesitate to get started. Contact our office at (213) 688-0460 for more information.

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