Sheriff Lee Baca to Co-Chair Statewide Jail Committee Despite Federal Investigation of Torture in LA County Jails

For Immediate Release—August 29, 2012

  Sheriff Lee Baca to Co-Chair Statewide Jail Committee Despite Federal Investigation of Torture in LA County Jails

California Residents Express Outrage

Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, 510-517-6612

Sacramento—Today the newly formed Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) confirmed the membership of its Adult Local Criminal Justice Facilities Executive Steering Committee (ESC). More than a few eyebrows were raised when scandal-plagued Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was appointed as co-chair.  Under recently signed Senate bill 1022, the ESC will be responsible for determining criteria and awarding $500 million in state funds to construct any custodial housing, reentry, program, mental health, or treatment space at the county level.

Organizations such as Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) see the formation of the BSCC as a separate entity from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, with an independent mission of “aligning fiscal policy and correctional practices” and improving public safety by using “cost-effective, promising, and evidence-based strategies” as a possible opening to lock less people up, and spend less money on prisons and jails.  However, they joined residents throughout the state voicing deep concern about Baca’s appointment and what it means for the overall direction of the Board.

“This is an opportunity for the state to offer incentives to counties to reduce their jail populations and turn away from a lock ’em up mentality that has been so disastrous at the state level” says Emily Harris, statewide coordinator of CURB. “But what are we supposed to think when Sheriff Lee Baca, who is under investigation for the tortuous conditions in his jails, is appointed to co-chair of this committee? The jails that Baca is in charge of are notorious as the worst in the country. Rather than use ‘cost-effective, promising, and evidence-based strategies,’ he has systematically ignored commissioned reports by experts that have outlined clear, safe plans to reduce his own jail population, and proposed building a $2.6 billion jail. How could we rely on Baca to help ensure other counties’ local accountability when he has been completely unaccountable to his own county?”

While the ESC’s mission includes providing funding for mental health, treatment, re-entry support, and other program space, it does not include County Mental Health Directors and only one re-entry service provider. The counties represented in the roster include Santa Barbara, Contra Costa, Kings, Lassen, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, and El Dorado. All but Lassen and Santa Cruz chose to expand their jail capacity instead of reducing their jail populations. Santa Cruz has become a renowned example of successful population reduction measures, but it is unclear how much influence the county will be able to have on the Board.

CURB, a coalition of more than 50 organizations statewide, submitted written testimony to the Board decrying the composition of the ESC and urging the Board to invest in alternatives to jail expansion. CURB stated: “We have seen failed corrections policy at the state level lead to massive, costly prison expansion, deadly overcrowding, and expensive lawsuits. You now are faced with a choice: to avoid these pitfalls at the county level and embrace alternatives, or be doomed to replicate them.  We urge you to take a different path, and use SB 1022 funds to invest in reentry, program, mental health, and treatment space that are independent, community-based, and not controlled by law enforcement.”

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