By Cesar Armendariz
End the Abuse: Vote Yes on Measure R All living beings have a right to be protected from physical and psychological abuse. This is why we need to immediately reform our criminal justice system by voting Yes on Measure R.
The way we administer “justice” in our current system is precisely through abuse. Take, for example, the Men's Central Jail in L.A. County, a temporary holding facility where individuals are locked up until they post bail or are scheduled to appear at their arraignment. Even though the facility has a maximum capacity of 6,750 inmates, in recent years the Men's Central Jail has had a daily inmate population of 17,000 people. This extreme overcrowding is made worse by the fact that these “temporary” facilities are now housing inmates long-term, with the average inmate being locked up for over two months. The limited space and inadequate resources are especially brutal for people with disabilities, chronic medical issues, and mental health problems.
This inhumane environment is also affecting the women jailed at the Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood. Over 30% of the women who are locked up in Lynwood are dealing with mental illnesses and many of them have history of domestic violence and trauma. The nature of the toxic power dynamics between inmates and jail staff has led to numerous incidents of sexual assault and rape. Formerly incarcerated individuals who have come forward with their stories report experiencing suicidal ideation for the first time in their lives while locked up in the L.A. County jails. This is an epidemic across California jails, which have the highest number of jail suicides in the country.
The county sheriff departments, whose responsibility is to manage and run the jails, are at the heart of this problem. Not too long ago, the FBI investigated the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and charged over a dozen deputy sheriffs for civil rights abuses, including brutal and illegal beatings of jail inmates. André Birotte, the US Attorney who oversaw the investigation, wrote that “these incidents did not take place in a vacuum — in fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized.”
Attempts at reforming these institutions have been stonewalled by the sheriff departments. In 2016, after years of grassroots advocacy, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors created the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission to increase accountability and transparency of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. However, over the past 4 years, the sheriffs have refused to provide the commission with requested documents and have denied their calls for inspections.
After increased public pressure, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors recently strengthened the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission by giving them subpoena power to force the Sheriffs to comply with their requests. Although these are important steps in the right direction, there is nothing stopping future supervisors from undoing these reforms. After all, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has a powerful and well-funded political committee with a history of influencing elections and politicians.
It is up to L.A. County voters to codify these reforms into law by voting Yes on Measure R. If voters approve of this measure on March 3rd, it will allow the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission to hold the Sheriff’s Department accountable for their actions through the subpoena power. Furthermore, Measure R mandates that the Civilian Oversight Commission and county officials develop a plan to reduce jail populations while improving psychiatric care and drug treatment for those already in jail. These reforms will help protect the public, keep people out of jail, and give incarcerated individuals a real chance at rehabilitation.
The Sheriff’s Department is not above the law and basic human rights should not be forfeited the moment you are thrown behind bars. Vote Yes on Measure R.
Cesar Armendariz is a public school teacher and former candidate for the L.B.U.S.D board.