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Citizens’ Commission Wants Key Reforms of County Jails PDF Print E-mail
Written by Elizabeth Marcellino City News Service   
Thursday, 11 October 2012 04:25

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence has presented its findings to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, suggesting a separate custody division and an inspector general to oversee it.

"We strongly considered the issue of whether or not the custody operation should be taken away from the Sheriff's Department," said Richard Drooyan, the commission's general counsel, "but that would require legislation and ultimately it would dilute accountability."

The commission's 200-page report released Sept. 28 amounted to a rebuke of Sheriff Lee Baca and his brass, saying the sheriff failed to pay attention to violence in county jails until "adverse publicity" forced him to take action, while others working for him encouraged aggressive tactics and a "deputy-versus-inmate culture" that incited assaults.

Layers of bureaucracy insulated Baca from what was happening in jails, the commission said. As a result, there was no real accountability. The commission recommended that a new assistant sheriff – to be identified through a nationwide job search – take responsible for county jail operations and report directly to Baca.

Policies for the use of force against inmates must be revised, the report said, and internal and external monitors are needed to track compliance.

Much of the discussion with the board on Tuesday, Oct. 9, focused on who would be responsible for seeing through some or all of the 63 recommended reforms and what authority various oversight groups -- including the board itself -- would have.

The sheriff holds many of the cards in the deck, as Drooyan pointed out in answering questions posed by various supervisors.

The board may be hindered in taking action on its own by the fact that Baca is an elected official and not their appointee, and by existing state law which may disallow a standing citizens' board to oversee Baca's operations, for example.

"It's a matter of getting the sheriff to join with us and buy into it," said Supervisor Gloria Molina, adding that she thought the process would be a challenge for both the board and the sheriff.

Molina expressed skepticism about creating the accountability needed to prevent violence.

She cited an incident where an inmate's "entire orbital skull had been crushed," but sheriff's investigators found that the use of force was in line with policy.

"I can't even get a description of how it happened," Molina said. "Did they hit him on the cement? Did they take a stick to him? What happened?"

She asked whether the board could appoint a civilian overseer to head the department's internal affairs bureau, but Drooyan said he believed that position would have to be appointed by Baca.

In a news conference last week, Baca said he agreed with the recommendations.

"When I read the recommendations – I couldn't have written them better myself," he told reporters on Oct. 3.

Importantly, Baca has said he would be willing to roll the Office of Independent Review and other oversight entities into a single entity like the Office of Inspector General envisioned by the commission, according to Drooyan.

But it is likely to take months to work out the details behind such a change and Supervisor Don Knabe is calling for more immediate action.

"In order to affect the dramatic culture change that is required, the sheriff must not simply agree to the findings," Knabe said in a statement immediately following the meeting. "He must take bold action, and quickly. The people of Los Angeles County demand it."

The Los Angeles County jail system, the most populous of its kind worldwide, typically holds about 20,000 inmates. All new deputies, fresh out of training, are assigned to jail duty.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 11 October 2012 04:26