In the wake of the death of George Floyd, and subsequent protests against the racialized violence communities of color endure at the hands of law enforcement, the Board of Supervisors has moved to increase law enforcement accountability and dramatically expand its investments that promote community well-being and reduce the harm caused by an overreliance on law enforcement and incarceration. Through a comprehensive package of four motions authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, that include expanding the Office of Diversion and Re-entry (ODR), funding probation oversight, scaling up the Public Defender’s Law Enforcement Accountability Unit (LEAU), and advancing the Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) initiative, the Board is doubling down on fully and fundamentally investing in community well-being as well as providing for greater oversight of law enforcement.
“The epidemic of police shootings of unarmed individuals is an unrelenting outrage that has rightfully provoked a much larger conversation around the twin objectives of promoting public safety and investing in community well-being,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “This package of motions is a reflection of our values guiding the way on measures that will lead to the outcomes that we desire and that the public deserves – safer, healthier, and more resilient communities.”
• Investing in the Public Defender’s Law Enforcement Accountability Unit
As the country continues to confront law enforcement misconduct, increasing transparency of information and accountability are essential. In a motion authored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, the Board will expand the LEAU’s budget to provide resources to scale up staffing and expertise for the unit. As an accountability unit within the Public Defender’s office, LEAU will allow for the better identification and aggregation of information on law enforcement officers who have abused their authority or engaged in unconstitutional behavior, so that this information can be utilized in court when representing their clients, and shared publicly when possible. This unit will not just hold law enforcement personnel accountable but will also promote fairness within the County’s justice system by helping to ensure that law enforcement misconduct is documented and properly exposed during criminal legal proceedings.
“As Public Defenders, our calling is to hold the system accountable through zealous representation of the indigent accused,” said Los Angeles County Public Defender, Ricardo Garcia. “The Law Enforcement Accountability Unit (LEAU), properly scaled, could be one of the most powerful, cost-effective, and direct means to ensure law enforcement accountability. I concur with and wholeheartedly support the LEAU motion and what it represents—an opportunity to increase accountability and promote fairness within our justice system.”
• Funding and Expediting Probation Oversight in Los Angeles County
Earlier this year, the Board approved a motion to create and fund a new oversight structure, consisting of the civilian Probation Oversight Commission (POC) and a new Probation-focused unit within the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to address longstanding governance issues in the department. Stronger oversight is critical for addressing longstanding governance issues within the Probation Department (Department), increasing accountability for implementing necessary reforms, and supporting the work of improving community well-being and safety. The work of oversight grows more urgent as the Department continues to face the emerging challenges of protecting clients and staff from COVID-19 and serving youth who would have otherwise been sentenced to the state’s closing Division of Juvenile Justice facilities. Today, the Board has acted to restore funding for these oversight entities, prioritizing the immediate hiring of an Executive Director.
“We are having a national conversation about the importance of effective oversight and accountability in our criminal justice system, and that must apply to our probation system as well,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, a co-author of this motion. “As the Probation Department undergoes major changes, we need to get this oversight commission up and running so that it can start the important work ensuring that the young people in our charge get the best care and support possible as they work to get their life back on track.”
“The Probation Department is at a critical point and needs strong civilian oversight now, not later. With a strong POC and investigative role for the OIG, it has an opportunity to remake itself not only to prevent abuses, but to improve public safety, promote well-being and further reduce incarceration,” stated Los Angeles County Inspector General, Max Huntsman.
• Expanding the Office of Diversion and Reentry’s Work to Reduce Incarceration and Invest in the Health and Well-Being of Communities
Since its establishment in 2015 by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl, ODR has served more than 19,000 individuals through its comprehensive reentry programs and diverted more than 5,000 individuals, the majority with serious clinical needs, from the jails. In partnership with a range of community and County partners, connecting individuals to community-based providers that offer services such as physical and behavioral health care, legal and employment assistance, family reunification, and educational opportunities, as well as guidance and support by a case manager who has also been impacted by the justice system, ODR has enhanced the health and social outcomes of justice-involved populations. Today’s action by the Board seeks to expand resources for ODR’s services for the fiscal year of 2020-21 by $30 million, allowing for hundreds of eligible individuals, many of whom live with mental or health challenges to be diverted from the jail. The motion also calls for a plan to ensure the sustainability and future scaling of this work.
“Experience and research both show that the investment the Board of Supervisors has made in the Office of Diversion and Reentry was sound,” said Director of the Office of Diversion and Reentry, Judge Peter Espinoza. “Through supportive housing and other services and a range of partnerships, we’ve been able to safely remove thousands of people from jail to care and keep thousands more from ever going back. With new resources we can take our work to the next level and make it so no one should have to try to get well in a cell.”
“Justice reform is overdue and robust Sheriff and Probation accountability is lacking in LA County. On behalf of all the women at A New Way of Life who have experienced the harms of the justice system, we call on the Board to take action today that will expedite reforms, invest in community alternatives to incarceration, and implement real measures of accountability toward justice and equality”, said Susan Burton, an advocate for formerly incarcerated individuals and founder of A New Way of Life.
• Creation of a Reserve Fund to Support the Alternatives to Incarceration Initiatives
The Board of Supervisors has steadily worked to move Los Angeles County away from traditional enforcement and punishment models towards a model focused on rehabilitation, healing model, and community-based care. In a new motion, led by Supervisor Kuehl and co-authored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, the Board will work to establish an ongoing funding reserve dedicated to the new Office of Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI). This effort comes after the Board voted in March to establish the initiative that would provide this community-based care and treatment—calling for “care first, jails last.”
This action followed the submission of the ATI Working Group’s report which found troubling racial disparities in terms of who gets incarcerated, including a finding that African Americans comprised 29 percent of the jail population despite being 9 percent of the population in LA County; and that persons identified as Hispanic or Latinx comprise 49% of the population, but comprise 52% of people in the jail. Funding the ATI recommendations will guarantee that people experiencing mental health and/or substance use disorders are provided with appropriate treatment and responses; implement meaningful bail reform and diversion services; and provide effective treatment services in non-custody settings.
“This motion represents an important milestone in the County’s commitment to building a “care first, jails last” justice system,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “Not only does it commit to ensuring that the Office of Diversion and Reentry, which has become a national model for diversion, is adequately funded, it recognizes that the sources of those funds may well come from funding the County had previously invested in incarceration.”
For more information and to read each motion in its entirety, please visit: https://ridley-thomas.lacounty.gov/