Topanga Messenger published this piece on April 19, 2012.
Kathleen Hernandez requested the Messenger publish the following letter sent to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on April 3, 2012, by Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), David Chavez of the Youth Justice Coalition and Emily Harris, Statewide Coordinator, CURB, Oakland.
Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) is a statewide alliance of more than 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).
The letter is too lengthy to publish here but will be published in full online. Herewith is an abridged edition so, in the words of Ms. Hernandez, “folks in the canyon will be educated regarding this issue. Perhaps we can save money for state parks and education if we adopt some or all of the suggestions.”
Dear Los Angeles Supervisor,
Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) organizations and allies request that you consider our recommendations on decisions now before the public and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in regard 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.
1. The Board of Supervisors is responsible for allocating AB109 ‘prisoner realignment’ dollars, not the Sheriff. This money [$112 million] 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: Redirect first-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.
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…. Yet, prisons and jails do not pay for themselves…. History shows that when given the chance, California residents vote no on spending more money for prisons, and jails.
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: It is not too late to do the right thing. Reject this grant and its conditions.
3. The C.E.O. wants to justify spending $5.7 million to hire AECOM 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 of Justice 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: Say NO to spending $5.7 million to figure out how to jail more people in L.A. County. Any talk of jail construction before you have studied, discussed, and experimented with expert-recommended measures is a disservice to the County.
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: Speak out for current legislative options that propose … positive changes to harsh sentencing laws….
6. The troubling jail violence problem is now under study, with allegations of outrageous behavior by deputies going back for years.
Our Recommendation: 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: 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.
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.
CURB, Los Angeles
Youth Justice Coalition