CURB Letter to L.A. County Supervisors

April 22, 2012

County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors

Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration

500 West Temple Street, Los Angeles CA

Dear L. A. County Supervisor and Staff,

Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) organizations and allies request that you consider our recommendations on decisions that are now before the public and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in regards to AB900, jail expansion, and AB109, realignment.

CURB member groups in Los Angeles also request to meet with you and your staff in the near future, before critical decisions regarding jail expansion are made, and to be placed on an upcoming L.A. Board of Supervisors agenda in order to present you and the public with a comprehensive report showing how L.A. County can build safer communities without more jails.

There are certain measures that can be adopted immediately to move Los Angeles County away from the “cruel and unusual” business of mass incarceration and on the right track toward building real public safety and, at the same time, healthier, happier, more sustainable communities.

Please consider the following Recommendations:

1. The Board of Supervisors is responsible for allocating AB109 ‘prisoner realignment’ dollars, not the sheriff. This money can be spent on cost-effective programs proven to reduce incarceration and recidivism rather than on expansion of police forces and expensive high-tech tracking systems.

Our Recommendations to the Board:
Redirect 1st year AB109 realignment dollars, $112 million, from the L.A. County Sheriff and Probation Department to community-based alternatives including drug treatment programs, health care, mental health care, job training, job creation, housing, schools, and transportation. This will help people in their re-entry process to succeed in making a new life.

There are many cost-saving measures that can be taken at a local level to reduce incarceration and eliminate the supposed need to build more jails.

– BAN the BOX—Remove artificial barriers like “the box” asking about former convictions on applications for public employment.

– Advocate to remove public housing restrictions and restrictions preventing those who were formerly incarcerated from applying for professional trade licenses.

– Implement measures proposed in the Youth Justice Coalition’s Welcome Home plan:

  • Ensure that people released from prison or jail are given essential documents and critical resources: a California ID, social security card, a metro pass, birth certificate, medical records, prescriptions, and if applicable school transcripts and test scores.
  • Match 1% of local law enforcement spending to provide funds for peacebuilders, intervention workers, job centers, and youth programs and community centers to provide support and referrals for folks returning to their communities.
  • Mandate that companies who have contracts with the county provide jobs for people coming home from prison or jail.

2. Though the state approved L.A. County’s application requesting $100 million to build 1024 new jail beds for women, we know from the application itself that the construction budget is almost twice that amount, $194,000,000.  We also know that the $100 million from the state will be generated through the sale of high-yield Lease Revenue Bonds as legislated by AB900. The cost to taxpayers to repay those bonds will nearly double because of the high interest rate. In effect, the new women’s jail will cost no less than $300 million. Investors will double their money. On top of that, the annual cost to your constituents to maintain and operate this huge lock-up facility and the expense to run effective programming for all those inside has yet to be calculated.

Projects funded with Lease Revenue Bonds do not require a vote from the public for approval because they are supposed to pay for themselves–like a toll road. Yet, prisons and jails do not pay for themselves—instead they suck the life-blood from local communities. History shows that when given the chance, California residents vote no on spending more money for prison and jails.

And, recent polls show that American voters believe there are too many people locked up and they overwhelmingly support policy changes that shift non-violent offenders from prison to more effective, less expensive alternatives.

Our Recommendation to the Board:

It is not too late to do the right thing. Reject this  grant and its conditions. Do not sink L.A. County into this disastrous debt for lock-up facilities we do not need.  Instead, demand that the state help counties with constructive programs like drug treatment programs, health care, mental health care, job training, job creation, housing, schools, and transportation.

3. The C.E.O. wants to justify spending $5.7 million to hire A.E.C.O.M. to assess existing conditions in L.A. County jails, help propose the direction of future programming inside jails, and present preliminary designs for construction. A.E.C.O.M. is primarily a group that engages in prison construction; they are not a group that develops creative alternatives or positive programs that will result in depopulating prisons or jails. There are well-founded reports from the ACLU; Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB); Justice Policy Institute; Youth Justice Coalition and the VERA Institute that present proven measures that can be taken to safely reduce prison and jail populations, thereby eliminating the supposed need for prison and jail construction. The VERA Institute report was commissioned by the Board itself and paid for by L.A. County residents and has been on the table for months.

Our Recommendation to the Board:
Say NO to spending $5.7 million to figure out how to jail more people in L.A. County.  Instead, spend a fraction of that money to make a plan to adopt the recommendations presented in these reports, many of which have been used successfully in other counties. Use the rest of that money to begin implementing those recommendations ASAP.

Any talk of jail construction before you have studied, discussed, and experimented with expert-recommended measures is a disservice to the county.

4. Los Angeles County is expending vital resources and using jail space to detain people for civil immigration purposes.  Currently, Los Angeles County complies with every immigration detainer request from Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE), despite the fact that such compliance is not mandatory.  According to a recent JFA Institute report, approximately 2,100 inmates have ICE holds each day.  On average a person with an ICE hold spends 39 days in custody.  The federal government  does not reimburse the County for this significant cost.   ICE frequently issues immigration detainers in error, resulting in the unlawful detention of U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants by Los Angeles authorities before ICE assumes custody.

Our recommendation to the Board:
Adopt a policy to limit the circumstances where the County will detain individuals on an ICE detainer.   Adopting a policy will limit County detention of individuals unlawfully and unconstitutionally for ICE, save the County millions of unreimbursed dollars, and free up many jail beds.

5.  L.A. County Supervisors have considerable power to influence state government actions and current legislation that will take steps toward reducing the rate of incarceration. Use your power to steer the state on a better course.

 Our Recommendation to the Board:

Speak out for current legislative options that propose—though sometimes meager—positive changes to harsh sentencing laws including:

– Sen. Mark Leno’s SB 1506 to make possession of small amounts of drugs a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

– Senate Bill 9, the California Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, which will give individuals convicted to life imprisonment as juveniles an opportunity apply for parole after 25 years.

– The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012 will allow prisoners currently serving a life sentence, under the 3-Strikes Law, for non-serious, non-violent crimes to apply for a sentence reduction. An estimated 3000 individuals will be eligible for a new sentence under this initiative.

Support the campaign to repeal AB900 and save the state and California counties billions of dollars.

Call for investment in people across the state, not jails and prisons.

 6. The troubling jail violence problem is now under study, with allegations of outrageous behavior by deputies going back for years.

Our Recommendation to the Board:

Erecting new jails is not the solution.  Reduce jail violence and overcrowding by reducing the jail population and holding the Sheriff accountable for abuse.

7. The Sheriff and Board are considering contracting with the state to house L.A. County prisoners in state prison facilities. If this happens, prisoners will be farther away from their families, attorneys, and support networks.

Our Recommendation to the Board:

Drop the idea about exporting County prisoners to state facilities. This is just another form of county jail expansion. Sending people farther from home undermines all the options provided by AB109 Realignment to reduce the jail population and recidivism rates.

Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) is a statewide alliance of over 40 organizations seeking to CURB prison spending by reducing the number of people in prison and jail and the number of prisons and jails in the state. curbprisonspending.org

We look forward to speaking with you in person to talk about all of our recommendations in more detail.
Please contact us if you have any questions.

We will follow up with you soon.

Sincerely,

Dolores Canales, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement

David Chavez, Critical Resistance, Youth Justice Coalition
dchavez625@yahoo.com

Emily Harris, Statewide Coordinator, CURB, Oakland

emily@curbprisonspending.org

Los Angeles Coffee Party

Joe Maizlish, Critical Resistance

Kim McGill, Youth Justice Coalition

Kevin Michael Key, Los Angeles Poverty Department

Kwazi Nkrumah, Martin Luther King Coalition of Los Angeles

Nyabingi Kuti – Executive Director, LA Reintegration Campaign

Occupy the Hood

Sheila Pinkel, Professor, Pomona College.

geri silva, Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes

Carol Smith, Executive Board, National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles Chapter

Mary Sutton, CURB, L.A.
Masutton2@earthlink.net

Molly Talcott, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sociology, CSU Los Angeles

Danae Tapia, Youth Justice Coalition

Jimmie Thompson, Fair Chance Project

John Thompson, USC School of Social Work

Carol Watson, Former Board President, National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles Chapter

Julia Negron C.A.S., Director, A New PATH – Los Angeles

Women’s Council of the CA Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers

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