This coming Tuesday, March 3, Californians join 13 other states and the American Samoa caucuses for the Democratic primary that will select a presidential candidate. At the same time we will also have an opportunity to vote for transformative local policies in Los Angeles. One such policy is Measure R, a ballot initiative designed to bring oversight, transparency and accountability to LA County Sheriff’s Department.
This election is a chance for local change and a step forward for hundreds of families and people that have been impacted by the Los Angeles County Jail system, and Measure R brings a thoughtful reform to the largest jail system in the country.
The ballot initiative Measure R: “LA County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission Ordinance,” is a robust policy effort that is endorsed by leading criminal justice advocates like the ACLU of Southern California, to ensure that there is accountability, and that critical funding is directed at mental health services for those who need it.
First, it expands the legal powers for the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission to effectively and independently investigate misconduct and corruption. This is critical because no one is above the law. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has been getting away with violent and corrupt behavior for too long.
In addition expanding the legal powers of the commission, Measure R will require LA County to develop a plan in seven months to reduce jail population and reinvest the savings into treatment and services. This is critical to supporting our most vulnerable population.
Measure R comes at a critical juncture for Los Angeles County’s jail system and the crisis we are grappling with, including people from our own communities who are impacted by high rates of homelessness. Some experts argue that there is a revolving door between the streets of Los Angeles and the jails of Los Angeles County. Part of the solution to this crisis is providing proper services and support to ensure we are addressing problems at the root.
Currently, 25% of our community members who are inside Los Angeles County’s jails system are the chronically homeless; 5,500 have acute mental illness, 70% suffer from substance abuse disorder, and 40% cannot afford bail. When we add up all of these figures and place faces on the statistics, we quickly realize that action must be taken now.
Measure R is an opportunity to get it right and ensure our Sheriff’s Department operates with accountability and transparency. And that people inside LA County Jails system get the support they need to rehabilitate, and re-join their families and communities with proper support.
Measure R’s effort to expand transparency and accountability is particularly important to families like Juan’s. Juan did not make it out of Los Angeles County’s jail system. He struggled with mental illness all of his life. Los Angeles County locked him away instead of offering care and proper treatment. He died in jail after he was pepper sprayed multiple times by Sheriff’s deputies. Surveillance video shows how Juan was sprayed and how he was denied access to oxygen as he was dying.
This is unacceptable. We cannot tolerate abuses of power. We need real accountability. Juan’s story is important, but not unique. Juan joins a list of people who faced tragic and inhumane conditions inside our jail system.
Helen’s son John also died in the system. John died at the age of 22 inside LA County’s jail system. She was told by the department that the cause of death was suicide, but the facts stand — his body was badly beaten and the autopsy report listed his death as “undetermined.”
When asked about this tragedy Helen recalls her son as an artist and writer, and a life cut short. “I would hate to see another family go through what I went through. The families of Los Angeles demand [the] Sheriff’s accountability in our county jails. Please vote yes on Measure R, we need this now.”
The time of mass incarceration is over. We must begin to address the root causes and open the door to reform.
Our community urges you to reform LA County Jails. Vote Yes on Measure R!
Armando Carmona is a partner at Tzunu Strategies, and a member of Reform LA Jails Coalition.