mental health diversion Archives - Dignity and Power Now

What is JusticeLA?

JusticeLA took Los Angeles by storm on September 26th when we launched our campaign to stop the 3.5 billion dollar jail plan by putting 100 replica jail beds in the middle of downtown L.A. in front of Kenneth Hahn Hall, where the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meet. Check out the video below.

Yeah, okay. But what is JusticeLA exactly?

JusticeLA is a coalition. It’s an umbrella group where over 50 organizations have come together to fight a common cause: jail construction in L.A. County. A coalition is kind of like an organization for organizations, and JusticeLA is one of the biggest of its kind!

So is Dignity and Power Now JusticeLA?

Yes! So is Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Community Coalition, Immigrant Youth Coalition, Revolve Impact, TransLatin@ Coalition, Youth Justice Coalition, and 40+ other organizations and counting!

And what do you all do as JusticeLA?

Ultimately we’re calling for a stop to jail construction and expansion in order to fully realize the promise of diversion and re-entry through a justice reinvestment strategy for Los Angeles.

Although JusticeLA has only publicly existed for a little over a month, 3 people have died in the jails during that time. We’ve responded by having a vigil outside of the jails, a powerful town hall meeting in the Antelope Valley where family members spoke, making an altar for Día de los Muertos at Hollywood Forever, and releasing multiple videos including the one below that documents the entire town hall.

We’re now looking for 88 artists who want to shut down the county’s 3.5 billion dollar jail plan by utilizing the jail beds from our campaign launch to create public art projects in each of L.A. County’s 88 cities by December 24th. Submit your proposal here!

How is JusticeLA different from the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence and LA No More Jails?

Good question! Those are separate coalitions with different goals. The organizations in the C2ESV all want to end sheriff violence in the jails and are working towards common goals like effective civilian oversight of the LASD. LA No More Jails is a coalition with the common goal of abolishing all jails in L.A. County, including but not limited to new jail construction. So although you will see a lot of crossover in organization participation, these are separate collectives of organizations with separate goals.

Whether through JusticeLA, the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence, LA No More Jails, or on our own, we at Dignity and Power Now will continue to work to secure dignity and power for all incarcerated people, their families, and communities. Join us!

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.

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