On August 11th the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to spend upwards of $2 billion to build two new jail facilities. The vote was illegal. According to the Brown Act, all public meetings require items to be publicly placed on the agenda at least 72 hours before the meeting, not read into the agenda the day of.
Many of us attended the board meeting that morning with hopes of celebrating a motion – spearheaded by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Kuehl – to secure $100 million for an Office of Diversion and diversion infrastructure such as supportive housing. This would have been a victory in the wake of the previous meeting where both Supervisor Knabe and District Attorney Jackie Lacey felt the need to emphasize that jail diversion is not jail reduction. The ongoing, and at times compulsive, narrative that jail alternatives won’t reduce the jail population is frustrating and ungrounded. Sneaking a $2 billion jail construction project into a jail diversion vote shows us that this logic is not only faulty, it’s compulsive.
Last week Mike Antonovich introduced a motion to re-vote on the issue of an Office of Diversion and jail construction. This swift move to correct the Brown Act violation was appropriately initiated by Supervisor Antonovich as he kicked off the illegal August 11th vote by reading in his jail construction proposal. The motion to vote on the issues again was approved while there are still plenty of unanswered questions. For example:
2. A report by Health Management Associates stated that the jail population would grow beyond current capacity if the county did nothing. Since the county is funding diversion efforts and since the sheriff’s department has received a state grant to reduce the county jail population by 15%, why not maximize this momentum and build community alternatives?
3. Why is 50% of the jail population being held on exuberant bail schedules when they could be subject to a risk-based pre-trial release program?
4. Why is the county considering building a women’s jail when jails have only produced medical negligence and abuse for people housed in women’s facilities?
These are just a few of the unanswered questions that stain any talk of jail construction.
On September 1st we will converge again on the Hall of Administration where the supervisors will again vote. As of now the county is moving forward with these two issues as one agenda item. Both diversion and jail construction should be dealt with separately but follow one single agenda: optimize diversion efforts for Black and Brown people, women, and those with mental health conditions as a long term jail reduction strategy.