Criminals first, safety last: L.A. County to close jail, dump mentally ill prisoners on streets

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LOS ANGELES, CA – “Criminals First, Safety Last.” That should be the name of Los Angeles County’s program to close the Men’s Central Jail, rather than the rainbows and cotton candy official name: “Care First, Jails Last.”

The program, approved by local lawmakers, would close the largest jail within the world’s largest jail system with no provisions for housing the 3,800 suddenly freed inmates, 900 of whom have mental health problems.

Opened in 1963, the enormous jail has been the temporary home to some of the nation’s most notorious criminals, including Charles Manson, “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez and “Golden State Killer” Lonnie Franklin.

The county had planned to replace it with something called the Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility, where inmates with mental health problems would receive the help they need.

But as often happens when actions are not thought through, that plan fell to a desire for incarceration-diversion programs and community-based alternatives.

That culminated in the county’s decision to cancel the plans to open the treatment facility. But it did not stop their plans to close the jail and on July 7, 2020, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to close Men’s Central Jail within a year.

For some perspective, the LA County Sheriff’s Department is dealing with a $47 million decrease in jail funding as it fights a surge in crime that includes a 94% increase in murders over the past two years.

 

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he plans to sue the Board of Supervisors to keep the men’s jail open. Villanueva stated:

“They don’t have the legal authority to do this. They think by removing the budget from us that we will be forced to close the jail.

But every single inmate is there by orders of the court, so the board has no authority to intervene and release them from custody. They are smoking some strong stuff at the Board of Supervisors.”

Villanueva was elected three years ago and has battled the board from day one to be allowed to employ proven public safety measures amid the defund the police movement.

The board appears to dismiss the Sheriff’s suggestions and instead seems intent on remove his authority. It has, for instance, rejected Villanueva’s request for outside counsel, or the funds to hire his own, to resolve the jail issue.

County Counsel Rodrigo Castro-Silva responded to Villanueva’s request with a Dec. 28, 2021, letter, which reads in part:

“Like all county department heads, you are responsible for operating the Sheriff’s Department within the parameters of the budget. Your disagreements with the Board regarding budgetary matters is not a basis for independent outside counsel.”

Instead, Castro-Silva is demanding the Sheriff “work alongside the Board.” His vision:

“A new model of criminal justice policies to offer more effective rehabilitative options and better serve the community.”

Efforts last week to get the board to reconsider closing the Men’s Central Jail were unsuccessful. Villanueva criticized the board for claiming to make counseling a priority yet wanting to dump mentally ill prisoners into the community. He said:

“They’re telling me pound sand — I don’t know what I’m doing. They’re the ones who want to close the only facility with 1,000 single-man cells of the most dangerous inmates in America, but I don’t know what I’m doing.”

The federal government has been monitoring the county jails since 2015 under a federal consent decree that stemmed from a lawsuit arguing there was a lack of mental health treatment in the jail along with excessive use of force by staff.

Villanueva noted that a certain standard of care for mental health that is legally required under the decree would be unattainable if the jail were to be closed. In fact, federal monitors have noted improved jail conditions over the years. One monitor, Jeffrey Schwartz, wrote to the board in a Feb. 7 letter:

“We have seen substantial improvement in the Downtown jails … and have noted that progress in our reports to the Federal Court. We believe that substantially reduced staffing in Custody Operations, particularly at the Sergeant level, will endanger the important positive changes that have been achieved.”

So even with advances in the system, it is clear that some in leadership positions have a dubious agenda.

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Far left LA District Attorney, contributing to skyrocketing crime and facing new recall, suddenly tough on crime?

February 23, 2022

LOS ANGELES, CA – In 2020, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon entered office and immediately banned any of his prosecutors from seeking prosecution of any juvenile as an adult or argue for life sentences without parole.

Now, almost two years into his term and facing a second recall effort, he has issued a memo that authorizes a committee to evaluate harsher sentences when necessary.

On February 18th, Gascon issued two memos to his staff in which he announced the formation of committees to determine if a harsher sentence should be sought against criminals.

Gascon said that there could be “rare” occasions where it would be appropriate to charge juveniles as adults and sentences which would include life in prison without parole.

Gascon’s committee, aptly named the “Alternate Charging Evaluation Committee,” is tasked with reviewing cases that appear to warrant harsher penalties.

The committee will be comprised of the prosecutor assigned the case, the head deputy, and the bureau director who must all agree that a harsher penalty is appropriate before proceeding with the case.

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In the memo, Gascon said that approval for seeking harsher penalties will:

“Only be granted in extraordinary situations where it is abundantly clear that the defendant is beyond any means of rehabilitation and the crime perpetrated is deserving of extreme penalty.

Juveniles who have allegedly committed crimes that may warrant, in his opinion, being tried as an adult would go in front of the Juvenile Alternative Charging Committee.

This committee would be comprised of the prosecutor assigned the case, deputy-in-charge, assistant head deputy, and the head of the Juvenile Division. All must agree that the circumstances of the case warrant the juvenile to be tried as an adult before the case goes forward.

Gascon wrote:

“In exceptional circumstances, criminal jurisdiction may be appropriate for youth offenders where it is abundantly clear the minor poses a danger to the public and has serious difficulty controlling their dangerous behavior in line with the evaluation for extended Secure Youth Treatment Facility detention.”

Gascon’s change of direction comes after law enforcement leaders and prosecutors have come out publicly and criticized how he prosecutes cases.

Leaders like Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva deferred prosecution of alleged cop killers to the federal authorities because he had no faith that Gascon would prosecute the case properly.

Gascon has also been the subject of a lawsuit, brought by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for L.A. County, who challenged his policies, specifically in homicide cases, in which he requires prosecutors to seek dismissal of certain special circumstances.

Those special circumstances could be that the alleged criminal may be a documented gang member or convicted felon which would elevate the charges they face in court.

Gascon lost the case when the judge ruled in favor of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for L.A. County, however, a hold on the ruling has been ordered as he is appealing the decision. That pending appeal is set to go to trial in April.

A spokesman for Gascon, Alex Bastian, discussed the memos issued by the District Attorney and the official reasoning behind them:

“The district attorney is firmly committed to his principles. One of these underlying principles is to constantly refine what we are doing so that we can continue to enhance public safety in a thoughtful manner.

“This is what the D.A. has always done, and what he will continue to do. We are now more than a year into his term, he has listened to community members, victims, and colleagues. Based on everything we have learned we are rolling out these policy adjustments.”

Gascon’s evolution comes amid his second recall effort which is why Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami believes that is why Gascon is changing course. He said:

“We are supposed to believe that he has suddenly changed his entire belief system overnight? He is a politician, and he believes he will be recalled and lose his job. Don’t be fooled, Los Angeles.”

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