mental health diversion Archives - Dignity and Power Now

Jeff Sessions is a Major Player in the LA County Jail Suicide Epidemic

Throughout the last presidential administration the Department of Justice has played an important role in implementing changes within the LA County Jail system. From stepping up the treatment of mentally ill prisoners to the probe into jail abuse that eventually led to the convictions of both former Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Tanaka, the Justice Department has been one of the only departments to even scratch the service of “policing the police.”

Now Jeff Sessions is heading it.

Jeff Sessions has a long history of opposing civil rights, and particularly the civil rights of Black people. In four short months he’s already established himself as a champion of law enforcement, no matter the circumstance. When speaking to a group of federal, state, and local law enforcement in Long Island on April 28th he made his stance clear by saying “This is the Trump era – so you can be confident that this nation’s leadership has your back.”

Despite the fact that he continuously uses terms like aliens and thugs in his speeches, has rolled back protections for transgender students in schools, is actively targeting non-documented people for deportation, and is unapologetically pro-law enforcement, he somehow heads the nation’s DOJ Civil Rights Division.

After a series of investigations into the LA County jails by the Civil Rights Division dating back to 1996, a failed memorandum of agreement, and a lawsuit settlement, everything culminated in 2015 when the DOJ reached a “wide-ranging and court-enforceable agreement to protect prisoners from serious suicide risks and excessive force in the largest jail system in the country.” These reforms were designed to prevent and respond more effectively to suicides and self-inflicted injuries and address use of force through multiple detailed measures. However, this settlement (aka consent decree) only works if it is enforced by the DOJ.

Which it clearly is not…

In 2015 use of force in the jails went up 40%, and recently even the department’s own Inspector General has come out saying there is no updated data on the sheriff’s departments’ use of force. And as for suicide attempts, there have already been nine deaths that we know of in 2017.

As of last month Jeff Sessions has ordered the DOJ to review all existing consent decrees, including the much-needed one in LA County, because, in his words, consent decrees between the federal government and local police departments can “reduce morale of the police officers.”

While the world is focused on Trump (for good reason), as abolitionists we must focus on Jeff Sessions and not let him carry out his discriminatory policies and build his militarized white supremacist police state under the radar. All eyes on the Department of Justice. And that includes Thomas Wheeler II, who currently heads the Civil Rights Division and already has a history of proposing hateful laws and giving questionable speeches.

To stop use of force, to stop the suicide epidemic, to stop the PIC, we must stop Jeff Sessions.

Director of Health and Wellness Mark-Anthony Johnson said it best last week in the Sacramento Bee:

He’s advancing a narrative that Black communities are violent; also that law enforcement is losing the morale and that’s a danger to public safety. That’s a very dangerous combination.

Follow DPN and #TrollJeffSessions on social for future action steps.

7 Critical Reasons to #StopToxicJail

1. It’s FAR

The proposed location is the old Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, over 80 miles away from the current jail in Lynwood and the Los Angeles city center. Families would have to drive through steep hills of the Angeles National Forest to visit their loved ones. There is no option of public transportation for women being released. Factors such as these remind us of the negligent death of Mitrice Richardson.

2. It’s TOXIC

In recent years the Mira Loma site has exhibited everything from raw sewage spills to measurable amounts of diesel in the soil. For details read We are Not Disposable: The Toxic Impacts of Prisons and Jails, a report just released by CURB and endorsed by DPN as a direct response to the county’s EIR.

3. It’s HISTORICALLY TOXIC

Used as a military airfield in the 1940s, the Mira Loma Detention Center became contaminated with hazardous waste almost 80 years ago, a classification that has stuck with it since.

4. It puts women at risk for VALLEY FEVER

Valley Fever is no joke. It is spread through spores in the soil, can cause skin lesions, chronic infections, pneumonia, and death, and has already proven to be widespread among those in the Lancaster area. Half of the proposed jail area will not be paved, posing a direct risk to prisoners, staff, and visitors.

5. We need GENDER JUSTICE

not gender responsiveness. Building a jail specifically for women is not what women need. They need to be with their families, have access to effective primary and mental healthcare, to healthy food and education, to job training and childcare, to address harms such as domestic violence through ways that are transformative instead of punitive. Gender justice is an investment in our communities, not in our incarceration.

6. It TEARS FAMILIES APART

The largest impact is felt in the families left behind. Moving women two hours away will put a heartbreaking strain on their relationships, especially with their children. For more on what LA’s incarcerated women experience read our report Breaking the Silence: Civil and Human Rights Violations Resulting From Medical Neglect and Abuse of Women of Color in Los Angeles County Jails.

7. It’s RACIST

The majority of the people impacted by this jail will be economically disadvantaged Black and Brown people. The women’s jail is a pet project of Michael D. Antonovich, a white male supervisor of the Lancaster district with a severely racist history, and he is desperately trying to push it through before he is no longer a supervisor in December. Remember, you don’t get a vote – they do! Which is why it is so important that you make sure your voice is represented.

Join us in requesting the county invest $120 million in our communities – not in our incarceration.

Together we can #StopToxicJail! 

Push Back on the Fear and Safety of Law Enforcement

Baca stepped out of the courthouse on August 1st, came down to face the cameras, and began to justify all the reasons why he was withdrawing his guilty plea. I listened to him make his statement and a couple things came up for me…

There’s a really offensive irony in the fact that he continues to play up his Alzheimer’s diagnosis as a reason why he shouldn’t go to prison. Meanwhile we still have hella folks inside who aren’t getting proper treatment. Law enforcement’s psychological and emotional wellbeing has so much more value and weight than the psychological and emotional wellbeing of Black and Brown people in Los Angeles County; particularly incarcerated people. Clearly Baca is using his diagnosis as a legal maneuver while many of our folks in the jail system, which he ran for years, are experiencing cognitive “impairments that are beyond minimal” (as his lawyer described him.) Baca may in fact benefit from the “mental health diversion” climate that has the county’s attention but our loved ones inside have yet to see those benefits.

Even when you talk about an officer involved shooting the popular narrative is that “police are scared for their lives.” The family members of Donnell Thompson, Jr. have expressed that he had a disability. Those needs were met with military force. The Sheriff’s response in his case was to deploy SWAT, deploy armored vehicles, and kill him.

Donnell Thompson, Jr.’s case is a clear indication of how the fear and psychological health of law enforcement is valued over the safety and lives of people in our community. They are given so much more priority – even in a legal context, which is why Baca is playing up his diagnosis so hard. All the while Donnell’s family endures another example of “treatment” for Black people. This is a clear indicator of the crisis of state violence.

The health and wellness of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Black and Brown people and their loved ones is the necessary priority. It is all the more critical that we look at it not as supplement to the conversations of stopping lethal and excessive force, but as essential. Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown LA is still the largest mental healthcare provider in the country and Los Angeles County is looking to build another jail to function as a treatment facility. As long as incarceration and public safety are the lenses through which we “treat” Black and Brown people’s health our communities will never be safe.

It is necessary that we push back on this narrative that the fear and safety of law enforcement should be the deciding factor in determining the life and death of Black and Brown people.

2.3 BILLION Reasons Los Angeles Must Stop Building Jails

These days when you search the news for “Los Angeles County Jail” you are bombarded with articles about racist emails from a top sheriff’s official, use of force increasing by 40%, deputies being convicted of assault, Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s conviction, Former Sheriff Lee Baca’s conviction, and the deaths of Matrice Richardson and Wakiesha Wilson.

If you look hard hidden within all of the news about sheriff brutality you can find a sentence here and there about the fact that Los Angeles County is moving forward with a plan to build two more jails to house this rampant culture of violence.

Let’s be clear, stopping this jail plan is not about money – it is about people’s lives. But, just to show how incredibly negligent the county is, let’s talk about money for a minute…

Los Angeles County’s proposed budget for the next year includes $118 million dollars for a new women’s jail to be built in the toxic Mira Loma site in Lancaster, more than 80 miles away from the current location in Lynwood, and another $5 million towards the planning of a new Men’s Central Jail, marketed as a “mental health jail.” The entire project is estimated to cost at least $2.3 BILLION dollars, but if the LASD has it their way it’ll cost even more. In an effort to ramp up the jail plan the sheriff’s department has been doing their own deal on the state level, scheming to get an additional BILLION dollars to take on 600 state prisoners within the county jails. That would make the jail expansion cost $3.5 BILLION at the minimum.

The LASD and the county would like to have you believe that they are “reforming,” “building trust,” and “focusing on alternatives,” but the fact is that although the county is planning on investing a few million towards mental health and reentry projects, they have not yet taken the multi-billion dollar jail plan off the table.

A perfect example of the sheriff department’s eagerness to expand the largest jail system in the world is the recent MacArthur grant. The MacArthur Foundation just awarded 11 grants ranging from $1.5 to $3.5 million to reduce jail populations. New York, Philadelphia, and New Orleans were among the winners. Los Angeles was not. They instead received a smaller, lower-tier award of $150,000. Our team that looked over the LASD application theorize that it was deliberately flubbed.

There is hope. First of all, the budget has not been approved and you better believe we will be at the County Board of Supervisors meetings in full force advocating for funding community solutions. Second, the supervisors do not seem keen on accepting this sheriff-lead state deal. And third, just look at San Francisco! The people there were successful in stopping the jail plan.

Let’s change the news headlines and #STOP2BILLIONJAIL!

LA County Board of Supervisors agendas are often posted last minute so keep your Tuesday days flexible and follow us on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on actions. In the meantime contact your supervisor and tell them to stop the 2 billion dollar jail plan and invest in mental health diversion and community solutions! We. Will. Win.

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Stay tuned to our blog for big updates regarding the Civilian Oversight Commission this month!

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