[Pnews] Los Angeles County Votes to Stop Construction of New Jail-Like Facility, Adding Momentum to National Abolition Movement

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 22 18:20:03 EDT 2019


https://theintercept.com/2019/08/22/los-angeles-county-mental-health-facility-abolition/ 



  Los Angeles County Votes to Stop Construction of New Jail-Like
  Facility, Adding Momentum to National Abolition Movement

Francisco Aviles Pino - August 22, 2019
------------------------------------------------------------------------

_In the fall_ of 2017, Yvonne Esparaza gathered all the mental health 
records she could find in order to plead to a Los Angeles County judge 
not to send her daughter to jail. She said her daughter, Jasmin, who had 
a history of mental illness and substance abuse, was facing up to 10 
years in prison for grand theft auto. Yvonne was concerned that a cell 
would make her daughter’s condition worse. The judge said the health 
records were irrelevant to her prosecution and sent Jasmin to the 
Century Regional Women’s Detention Facility. Two years later, Yvonne 
said her daughter’s mental health has worsened, and she fears for 
Jasmin’s safety.

On May 12, 2019, Mother’s Day, Yvonne was among dozens of family members 
who visited the Century Regional Women’s Detention Facility. Right 
outside the facility, members of the JusticeLA coalition greeted family 
members with flowers, food, and information. It was part of their 
monthslong campaign to ask the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors 
for a moratorium on all jail construction and expansion, as well as part 
of a growing national movement toward a justice reinvestment strategy, 
which favors diversion and investment in reentry over reliance on the 
prison system.

“I just want her out of there; I know of jails in other countries that 
know how to treat mental health without incarceration. This isn’t 
right,” Yvonne, who joined the coalition after the Mother’s Day event, 
told The Intercept. “It is time for something better, the whole system 
is messed up.”

On August 13, the movement had a pivotal victory. Following months of 
teach-ins, public forums, and office visits by JusticeLA, the Board of 
Supervisors voted to halt a $2.2 billion contract to build a gargantuan, 
jail-like mental health facility. Instead, the board will investigate 
how the county could invest in treatment programs and alternatives to 
incarceration.

The win is notable in part because it was driven not by reform politics 
but by an explicit call for prison abolition. Patrisse Cullors, 
co-founder of Dignity and Power and the Black Lives Matter movement, led 
the fight against the jail. As she told The Intercept, “In the history 
of abolitionist organizing, we have seen over the last 20 to 30 years, 
the public has said, OK, we can do abolition, but how do you actually do 
it? Yesterday we did that.”

_On February 12,_ the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a plan 
<https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-jail-construction-20190212-story.html> 
to replace the Men’s Central Jail — a large facility in downtown LA — 
with a mental health center. LA County is the most populous county in 
the country, with a growing population of over 10 million people, most 
of whom are people of color. According to the American Civil Liberties 
Union, it is home to the nation’s largest jail population, with a daily 
average of 22,000 inmates.

The $2.2 billion contract would have resulted in a project three times 
the size 
<https://www.dailynews.com/2019/02/12/l-a-county-scraps-womens-jail-in-lancaster-oks-downtown-treatment-center/> 
of California’s largest mental health hospital. With nearly 4,000 beds 
for pretrial detainees with mental health needs, organizers were 
concerned that the facility would be nothing more than a replacement 
jail. They demanded not only transparency on the plans but also for an 
overhaul on the process to allow for an abolitionist framework.

The board also voted to allow the county CEO to continue its 
relationship with McCarthy Building Companies, known for building mental 
health jails that becomeunsafe, uninhabitable, and sometimes even deadly 
<https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2016/jun/3/problems-californias-new-medical-prison/>. 
McCarthy was responsible for the California Health Care Facility 
<https://www.recordnet.com/article/20100803/A_NEWS/8030314>-Stockton in 
San Joaquin County, an $820 million prison medical facility built in 
2010. By 2016, the facility received failing grades from the California 
inspector general, and in 2019, one prisoner died from an outbreak of 
Legionnaires’ disease.

But organizers were undeterred; JusticeLA launched a multifaceted 
campaign to cancel the contract, gathering community members countywide 
to continue fighting for decarceration. The coalition met with health 
officials, supervisors, and the sheriff’s department. It also sought to 
bring people directly impacted together to understand what the county 
was planning to do with their loved ones inside, including during the 
Mother’s Day event.

Two members of the board who voted against the contract, supervisors 
Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, also commissioned a working group 
tasked with finding alternatives to incarceration 
<http://theavtimes.com/2019/06/24/l-a-county-pulls-back-some-funding-for-downtown-mental-health-jail/>. 
“A jail is a jail is a jail. It is not enough to change the name of the 
facility,” Solis said. Since February, that group has been meeting 
regularly with members who include scholars, activists, and county 
mental health specialists and county corrections. The interim report put 
together by the group details 
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6312538-ATI-Combined-Goals-v3.html> 
a plan 
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6312537-ATI-Combined-Document-v3.html> 
for the roughly 5,000 people with “significant mental health needs” in 
the program. The group recommends an increase in community services, an 
improved reentry plan, and a general shift “from a punitive criminal 
justice response to a public health, trauma-informed approach to crisis” 
— “Care first, and jail only as a last resort.”

In June, Solis called out the potential McCarthy deal to the board, 
saying it was premature to allocate so much money after a draft plan 
from McCarthy downsized the number of beds planned for the facility. “I 
look forward to reviewing the data we need to ensure that we deliver an 
appropriate project that is grounded in facts, community input, and a 
primary focus on diversion and rehabilitation, rather than punishment 
and incarceration,” Solis said in an official statement. The board voted 
to reduce the initial funding given.

Then, on August 13, the fight came to a head. Solis led a motion 
toreconsider <http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/139739.pdf>a 
$2.2 billion contract 
<http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/131197.pdf> with McCarthy 
Building Companiesto build a new facility 
<https://www.forbes.com/companies/mccarthy-holdings/%237f45d96748ab>. 
Solis cited ongoing research to determine how many of LA’s inmates can 
be diverted from the prison system and argued that such analysis is 
necessary “to make the best decision on the right-sizing and 
configuration.” Black, Latinx, and Indigenous organizers, scholars, 
artists, formerly incarcerated people, and survivors of violence packed 
a meeting of the Board of Supervisors to call for the jails and jail 
expansion plans to be shut down.

The board voted 4 to 1 to cancel the contract. The lone dissenter —  
Supervisor Kathryn Barger — sided with the sheriff, voting to keep the 
contract on the grounds that the county needed a solution.

_With this victory,_ the coalition stands out for closing what was 
projected as one of the most expensive jail plans in history, reflecting 
efforts to force cities and jurisdictions todecrease their reliance on 
incarceration 
<https://theappeal.org/incarceration-is-always-a-policy-failure/>.

Los Angeles County follows in the footsteps of San Francisco, which 
voted to shutter its juvenile hall 
<https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Closure-of-SF-s-juvenile-hall-less-than-one-13936500.php> 
earlier this year and “eliminate the jailing of children.” Instead, San 
Francisco will now explore community-based facilities that include 
“mental health services, job training, and other support systems 
<https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Closure-of-SF-s-juvenile-hall-less-than-one-13936500.php?psid=iCvmR>” 
for youth offenders. In Illinois, there has also been a long concerted 
effort to close down youth prisons, with successes as early as 2013 
<https://closeyouthprisons.wordpress.com/>.

In New York, the abolition movement has also been gaining traction. In 
2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to close the Rikers Island 
jail complex within a decade and replace it with “a network of modern 
and humane borough-based jails.” Since then, the coalition No New Jails 
NYC has been advocating to replace jails completely with alternatives to 
incarceration. “Just recently, people thought we were out of our minds,” 
Pilar Maschi, a Bronx-based abolitionist, told Gothamist 
<https://gothamist.com/2019/07/16/no_new_jails.php> this year. “But 
abolition is contagious. It’s idealistic, and I’m okay with that. I 
think we should strive for what we want, not just accept what we have.”

In LA, the abolition movement is also seeing growing support. In the 
last year, about 247,000 residents have signed on to support a 2020 
ballot measurereforming LA County jails <https://reformlajails.com/>, 
which, if passed, would allow the LA County Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight 
Commission to conduct a comprehensive analysis of how it can both study 
and assess the best ways to reduce the jail population and provide 
alternatives to incarceration. It will also give the commission subpoena 
power to compel personnel to give testimony, which would help them 
identify misconduct in policing.

With partnerships ranging from the Anti Recidivism Coalition and the 
Million Dollar Hoods research program to the Trans Latina Coalition, the 
LA campaign has prioritized the voices of those directly impacted. 
Abolition, said Michaé Pulido, policy director for the Trans Latina 
Coalition, “is a focus on asking for the basic needs for people. As a 
service provider to our trans community, we’ve shown by example how 
community alternatives to incarceration work.”

“There’s still such a negative relationship with police and trans people 
and people of color in general, and trans people have been at the 
forefront of abolition work that has gone unnoticed,” she added.

JustLeadershipUSA’s Eunisses Hernandez said the historic win this week 
to stop the jail is what happens when we follow the lead of femmes, 
survivors of violence, and people who are formerly incarcerated. “None 
of this would’ve been possible without the femme labor — both in the 
organizing and system actors. … They did the day today,” Hernandez told 
The Intercept.

The act of closing down a jail is only one way of practicing abolition. 
Michael Saavedra, a legal consultant for the Youth Justice Coalition and 
an organizer with Critical Resistance, was previously a key organizer in 
the Pelican Bay State actions, including a hunger strike, 
<https://www.npr.org/2014/03/06/286794055/how-four-inmates-launched-a-statewide-hunger-strike-from-solitary>between 
2011 and 2015. He told The Intercept recently that “abolition is not a 
simple act, but a collection of immediate servicing too [that also] 
maintains a vision of what a just world can look like.” Saavedra also 
runs clinics for formerly incarcerated people on how to expunge their 
records and helps consult reentry groups in community colleges. Shutting 
down the McCarthy contract, Saavedra said, “is only the beginning.”

-- 
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