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.”

Kenneth Simril Named to New Board

Mr  Kenneth SimrilKenneth Simril, President and CEO of Fleischmann’s Ingredients, has been selected to join the Board of Investments, which advises the county on investments for the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association.

Mr. Simril, who was appointed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, brings more than two decades of financial planning and management experience to the nine member Board which also includes the L.A. County Treasure as well as current and retired members of the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association.

“Kenneth brings a wealth of financial management to this Board,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.  “I’m confident his expertise will benefit the county employee retirement association in maximizing funds for county employees.”

Mr. Simril says he looks forward to enhancing the county’s investments, addressing the County’s liabilities and positioning the Board to become more engaged on policy matters affecting employee pension plans.

 “In addition to determining LACERA’s investment objectives, strategies and policies, it’s critical as part of our fiduciary responsibility that the Board of Investments safeguards LACERA’s assets for long-term growth so that we can provide the promised benefits to our members and beneficiaries,” Simril said. “Our role is important as stewards of change, constantly evaluating and re-assessing market conditions so that we can capitalize on new investment methods or opportunities to enhance investment returns.”

Mr. Simril has served on the Board of the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System.   He is a graduate of Harvard Business School where he received his MBA and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from the University of Southern California.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas Visits Selma: Honors Past and Prepares for Future

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined thousands of marchers, including President Barack Obama and Congressman John Lewis, on the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march. The historic march, which took place on the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, brought together elected officials, civil rights activists and ordinary residents hoping to capture the energy and to re-ignite a movement.

“Finding my way to Selma is a journey to a high point in Civil Rights history that I could not imagine ignoring,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “I came here for my own sense of commitment but also as a way of saluting those brave men and women who gave so much in order for us to enjoy the right to vote.”

Calling the Voting Rights Act of 1965 one of the “crowning achievements of our democracy,” President Obama noted the significance of a recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down an important aspect of the law and efforts to suppress voter turnout in many states across the country.

“Right now there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote,” said President Obama.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas noted the significance of Bloody Sunday, the seminal event a half-century ago when marchers demanding voting rights were severely beaten and tear gassed by officers.

“Had it not been for Bloody Sunday, I doubt there would have been a Voting Rights Act,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, “That form of brutality set in motion a truer democracy in this land. It was a watershed moment in the history of Civil Rights in this nation.”

While the route was the same, marchers enjoyed better conditions. Rather than suffering through a beating at the hands of police, the marchers locked arms and chanted songs, cried tears of joy and smiled at the turn of history of the march being led by an African American president.

“This is where the new dream is born,” said Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, who is Chair of the California State Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee. He noted that Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ past work as the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference set an example of public service work that he chose to follow.

Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 2015

But challenges remain. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is named for a Confederate general who was also a leader of the Ku Klux Klan and the Selma City Council only a few years ago spent city funds to erect a monument in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Poverty, unemployment, health disparities are still higher among African Americans than other racial groups.

Despite the sacrifices made by the Civil Rights era generation, voter participation rates in the United States are still among the lowest of any industrialized nation with less than 40 percent of eligible voters exercising their right. In Los Angeles, the March local election saw less than 10 percent of eligible voters turn out.

“The work is not done, the march is not over,” said actress and activist Sheryl Lee Ralph, who joined the celebrants in Selma and echoed the President’s call to action. “Selma is now.”

View Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ trip on Bloody Sunday to 16th Street Church in Birmingham:

The extended Selma video is available here:

County to Change Hiring Practices

examActing on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday the establishment of countywide hiring guidelines and procedures to ensure the job candidate evaluation, hiring and job promotion process is fair and unbiased and that examination materials are secure.

His motion came in the wake of a county audit that found the Los Angeles County Fire Department hiring process was marred by cheating on promotional exams, civil service exams for fire captains and tests for driving and emergency medical skills. According to the audit, copies of written and oral exams were left unattended in an unsecured box of paperwork and copies of interview questions and answers were circulated prior to the test.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ motion asked that hiring procedures include an effective digital, customizable, secure, transparent and cost-effective testing and assessment system that all Los Angeles County departments must use.

“The county must establish fair and uniform recruiting and hiring policies,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Maintaining and promoting a top-notch workforce is one way we can better serve our 10 million residents.”

While several county departments rely on cutting-edge computer-based assessment tools, including the Department of Human Resources On-Line Testing Program, it is optional and not used countywide. These tools allow departments to find and assess candidates in an efficient, fair and secure way.

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.