Supervisors Vote to End Controversial Federal Program

LACIMAGEStriking a balanced approach to public safety, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to end the county’s participation in a current collaboration between sheriff’s deputies and federal immigration officials in the county jails. Known as 287g, the federal program allowed for jail staff and immigration agents to screen inmates convicted of certain crimes to determine if they were eligible for deportation.

“This was a failed federal program that was constitutionally flawed and put Los Angeles County at risk—as a recent U.S. Court decision in Oregon found,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-authored the motion with Supervisor Hilda Solis.

However, the Supervisors also asked the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to continue cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security to implement the Priority Enforcement Program, a new program that would allow federal agents to cross-check the fingerprints of every person booked into a local jail against an immigration database. It would apply only to people who have been convicted of a current crime and immigration agents would no longer be stationed in county jails.

“This approach will address concerns from some in the community about the racial profiling and unfair targeting of folks who have not committed crimes,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “However, our vote also signals a desire to cooperate with the federal government in the development of the Priority Enforcement Program so that dangerous and convicted felons are no longer on our streets.”

Progress Report On Jail Construction Plan

Inmates_Seated_Chained1_500x300Acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday called for a progress report on the county’s Master Plan for replacing Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and for renovating Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster for female inmates.

They requested Sheriff Jim McDonnell and directed interim Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai to present the progress report at the board’s May 19, 2015 meeting at the county Hall of Administration.

Almost exactly a year ago, on May 6, 2014, the previously constituted board voted to replace the half-century old Men’s Central Jail with a state-of-the-art Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility that would hold and treat inmates with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders, as well as those considered medically fragile or requiring high security.

The board also voted to convert Mira Loma, previously a federal detention site for undocumented immigrants, into a facility for female inmates.

Before embarking on what could be the county’s most expensive infrastructure project, the board called for developing a cost-effective operational plan, timeline, and a report on how the construction would be financed.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said a progress report is due to the current board, stressing the need for transparency.

“We have a responsibility not only to build detention and treatment facilities that ensure public safety, but to build those facilities in public view, especially since the cost is projected to exceed $1 billion,” he said.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas observed that in the year since the board signed off on replacing Men’s Central Jail, criminal justice system reforms have affected the jail population.

AB 109, also known as realignment, raised the specter of overcrowding because it diverted felons from state prisons to county jails if their last conviction was for a non-serious, non-violent and non-sex offense. Proposition 47, on the other hand, helped reduce the jail population by downgrading several drug and nonviolent property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

Other reforms are still in the works, including Assembly Bill 1468, which would allow judges to split low risk inmates’ sentences between jail and probation, and Assembly Bill 624, which could cut low-risk inmates’ jail sentences short. Meanwhile, District Attorney Jackie Lacey is leading efforts to divert the mentally ill from jail into treatment.

“We cannot ignore the profound changes taking place in the criminal justice system,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Given this shifting landscape, it would be prudent to take another look at plans made a year ago, and consider making adjustments.”

Weighing In on Civilian Oversight of the Sheriff’s Department

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A town hall meeting on a Civilian Oversight Commission for the Sheriff’s Department.

Amid mounting concern across the country about law enforcement practices and use of force, a panel appointed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors met with members of the public in Exposition Park on Monday to hear their suggestions for making the Sheriff’s Department more accountable to the people it serves.

_MG_6756“The working group is committed to soliciting the broadest range of public input in fashioning its recommendations for the board,” said Vincent Harris, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ appointee to the panel tasked with recommending the powers and responsibilities of a soon-to-be-created Civilian Oversight Commission.

The town hall meeting at the supervisor’s Exposition Park district office drew about 80 people, most of whom responded with a show of hands when asked whether they would support greater civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department.

“The Civilian Oversight Commission should be able to comment, analyze, and weigh in on the Sheriff’s Department’s operations,” said Mark-Anthony Johnson of Dignity and Power Now, a community organization that advocates for people behind bars, as well as their families and their communities.

Skid Row community activist Jeff Page said the commission should be granted subpoena powers to ensure investigations are thorough.

“This commission has to have credibility to actually make action happen, and subpoena power is something that would make this commission viable,” he said. “That way it’s more than a token social group that can just field questions and entertain comments from the public about questionable activities by the Sheriff’s Department.”

_MG_6728The board voted in December 2014 to create a Citizen’s Oversight Commission after a blue ribbon panel called for reforms within the Sheriff’s Department.

It appointed the working group to hash out details such as the commission’s mandate, authority, and number of members. The working group scheduled nine town hall meetings across Los Angeles County in April to hear public testimony on the subject, before submitting its final recommendations to the board.

You can examine the working group’s draft recommendations and analysis, and weigh in by emailing comments to commserve@bos.lacounty.gov.

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From left: Roger Granbo, Max Huntsman, Vincent Harris, Neal Tyler, Hernan Vera and Les Robbins

 

Supervisors Approve Audit of Probation

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has asked for a far ranging audit to delve deeper into the Probation Department’s budget, recruitment, hiring and promotional practices. In addition, the audit will look into the effectiveness of programs to rehabilitate youngsters in custody. The audit, which was requested by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael D. Antonovich, was approved unanimously.

Although the U.S. Department of Justice recently ended a six year review of the camps and found that the Probation Department had made reforms to improve conditions for the hundreds of  youngsters currently in custody, the Los Angeles County Auditor–Controller released another report in April that contradicted some of those findings. For instance, the auditor-controller’s report found that none of the camps complied with staff training requirements and 80 percent of the camps did not maintain compliance with child abuse reporting requirements. The audit also found that youths were not always receiving the required substance abuse treatment programs and anger management therapy.

The Supervisors hope that the audit, to be completed by July, will answer some of the discrepancies raised by the previous reports.

“Improvements have been made but the department is not where it ought to be,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “ We need to continue our vigilance to make sure we are doing all we can for these youngsters so they can be rehabilitated and go on to lead productive lives.”

 

Enforcing Rules on Motels to Prevent Human Trafficking

(Left to Right) Compton Mayor Aja Brown, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Saving Innocence Executive Director Kim Biddle after testimony on March 3, 2015.

 

Motels that receive Los Angeles County vouchers to house homeless people must comply with new rules to prevent the trafficking of women and children on their premises.

Prompted by reports of sex trafficking and other crimes occurring at many motels around the county, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the motion, co-authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe, which will require motel owners to sign a contract stating that they will not participate in or allow any form of sex trafficking to take place in their facilities. In addition, they must hang a poster in a visible place with hotline information to report a possible human trafficking incident and for victims to receive help; allow law enforcement to check guest registries at-will and take a training session on sex trafficking provided by the County.

“There are few more disturbing issues than the buying and selling of children for sex. Unfortunately, much of this activity occurs in motels and hotels. If motels are going to receive a county voucher, they must fulfill their end of the contract,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We simply cannot and will not turn a blind eye.”

Added Supervisor Knabe, “I encourage those hotel operators that receive County housing vouchers to join us in the fight against the trafficking of young girls. I look forward to continued discussions as to how we can reach this goal.”

Last year, Los Angeles County spent nearly $4 million in vouchers for 52 motels. District Attorney Jackie Lacey testified at the hearing and noted that her office has aggressively pursued cases against traffickers and has sought to help victims through a diversion program.

“This motion will assist law enforcement officials looking for kids who are being enslaved by sex traffickers,” she said. “Signs posted in lobbies may also encourage enslaved minors or good Samaritans and bystanders to call the hotline to seek help and rescue these kids.”

Compton Mayor Aja Brown also testified adding, “Gangs look at children as merchandise. It is imperative that we take a stand collectively… against modern day slavery.”

Kim Biddle, executive director of Saving Innocence, a non-profit that offers services to victims of trafficking, also testified. She said that 100 percent of the children in her care had been abused and held against their will at hotels or motels across the county.

“These hotels are truly being used to harbor trafficking victims… for intensive commercial exploitation and rape,” she said. “It should be a high priority to take a look at the accountability of these motels and hotels, especially if the county is in contract with them or awarding them any kind of funding and support.”

The Department of Public Social Services, which issues the vouchers, will compile a report and bring it back to the Board for review next month. It should include other housing options and ways of enforcing the contract in cooperation with law enforcement and victim service providers.