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Black Lives Matter, other activists protest to stop jail expansion

Dozens of people gathered outside the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration on Tuesday to protest the expansion of jails in the county, while inside the building the Board of Supervisors finalized next year’s budget.

Wearing prison-orange T-shirts that read “I am not the property of L.A. County jail,” activists from a coalition of anti-incarceration groups perched on and around 100 steel-frame jail bunks that had been arranged on the street outside the Hahn Hall of Administration.

Police closed the entire block of Temple Street between Grand Avenue and Hill Street downtown.

“These beds represent trauma, torture, embarrassment, isolation, shame and death,” said Jayda Rasberry of the group Dignity and Power Now during a news conference.

The demonstrators, led by Patrisse Cullors, an L.A. native and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, launched the “Justice L.A.” campaign to call on county leaders to redirect funds intended for new jails to community services and other alternatives to incarceration.

The county plans to spend $2 billion to build a 3,885-bed replacement for the downtown Men’s Central Jail and a 1,600-bed women’s facility at the now-vacant Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster.

The plan, which opponents contend could amount to $3.5 billion by the time the jails are completed, was first approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2015.

Tacked on at the last minute to a motion to create a countywide Office of Diversion and Re-entry for people with mental illness, the plan was considered a second time after Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey criticized the board for violating the state’s open-meetings law.

It was approved on both occasions.

An environmental impact report on the Men’s Central Jail replacement will be out next month. Contracts to design and build both facilities are expected to be awarded in summer 2018.

Greg Akili, with Black Lives Matter L.A., said the county is spending money in the wrong places.

“We can find $3.5 billion to build more jails, but we can’t find money for schools. We can find money for Olympics, but we can’t find money for parks,” he said. “If you’ve got $3.5 billion, invest it in the people.”

None of the county supervisors came outside during the news conference or protest.

LAPD Cmdr. Todd Chamberlain said the organizers had not obtained a permit in advance. The protest was peaceful and no arrests were made.

On Tuesday afternoon, after the board adopted its supplemental budget for 2017-18, some of the protesters asked the board to consider an immediate moratorium on jail expansion pending a review of the effects of recent criminal justice reforms.

“We don’t know what our projected prison population will be in the next 10 years,” Cullors said. “What we should be doing is getting a clear understanding of who’s in our jails” and investing in their health and well-being instead.

Among the reforms that could affect the county’s prison population are Assembly Bill 109, passed in 2011; Proposition 47, passed in 2014; and Proposition 57, approved in 2016 but not yet fully implemented. Those measures, respectively, shifted public safety responsibilities from the state to counties, downgraded some property and drug felonies to misdemeanors, and allowed for the early release of some inmates.

This year there also has been a push at the state level to overhaul the bail system. About 63% of people in jails across California, or 46,000 inmates, had not been sentenced in 2015, according to the Board of State and Community Corrections. But one bill stalled in the Assembly, and Gov. Jerry Brown recently postponed an identical version to early next year.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell has previously said that “only time will tell how effective diversion will be,” and that an expanded Men’s Central Jail is needed to prevent worsening overcrowding.

Nina Agrawal
Los Angeles Times

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