Supporters of Measure R gathered for a celebration on Super Tuesday for their long fought win. At a private home, they offered a healing atmosphere to let their shoulders down, even if it’s only for a short time. They won’t be surprised if the measure is challenged even with its overwhelming win.
More than 100 organizations including Black Lives Matter, Reform LA Jails and the ACLU pushed for Measure R that will provide oversight of LA County Sherriff’s Department, grant subpoena power to a nine-member civilian commission and will give the panel the authority to conduct its own independent investigations of the Sheriff’s Department.
The coalition of organizations collected over 247,000 signatures to get Measure R on the ballot. Its passage required a simple majority, and it far exceeded that requirement.
It’s the aim of the measure to lift the rug thoroughly on cases of misconduct and corruption. In the past, the civilian watchdog panel was in place but didn’t have the enforceable subpoena power. It was difficult getting cooperation for information from the Sheriff’s Department, and the commission had to laboriously work through the Office of the Inspector General.
In addition, with the passage of Measure R, LA county is required to develop a plan in seven months to reduce its jail populations and look toward treatment and services for those currently incarcerated with acute mental illness, chronically homeless and those who suffer from substance abuse or simply can’t afford bail.
LA county’s jails have been called the largest mental health institution in the nation, but there is little argument that the jail system is unequipped to provide medical care. Measure R proponents have pointed to a cycle of those in need of treatment who are shuffled from emergency rooms to the street and to jail.
During an interview with the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, Lynne Lyman, a Measure R advocate, said with the passage of Measure R, the county will have the immediate responsibility to write a plan to find more appropriate care for those who are inappropriately jailed.
“The population of the people who are the most sick is just shameful. Seventy percent of the people in county jails are suffering from some kind of substance abuse disorder,” Lyman said. “[There are] 5,500 who are mentally ill. The statistic we have here is 25% of the people who are in the [county jail] are homeless, but that number has gone up to 40 percent of the people in jail are homeless [and on the streets] if released. So we’re really talking about our most sick, vulnerable, poor people who are inside the jail.”
Lymann points to the Sheriff’s $3 billion budget, with $1 million earmarked for jailing people each year.
However, during the long road to place Measure R on the ballot, she said there have been additional wins along the way.
“The first big win was in February of last year, when we were able to stop the building of the women’s jail and a mental health jail that was to house 5,000 people downtown,” Lyman said. “The campaign, found the county was actually violating its own contracting laws with their current jail construction contract.”
Lyman said by pointing out that legal action could be taken, they were able to stop the mental health jail construction. “At that same meeting, they passed a motion saying, ‘okay, if we’re not going to do this, we need a road map for alternatives.’”
The Supervisors will consider an Alternative to Incarceration work crew report on March 10.
Patrisse Cullors, founder and chairwoman of Yes on R and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, said the hard-fought measure represents 15 years of activism driven by the people of Los Angeles.
“Its mere existence is an enormous accomplishment that was only possible because we rose up and declared that No One is Above the Law and we need adequate mental healthcare in our county,” Cullor said.
She believes the measure will offer an opportunity to truly change the lives of some of Los Angeles county’s most vulnerable residents.
Those who worked on the campaign said that it was heartbreaking to hear so many stories from those they met who’d been harassed, racially profiled and experienced excessive force by law enforcement.
“It’s a watershed moment,” Cullors said of the vote. “Its passage is both a hyperlocal issue and also a national issue.”
She said she hopes change in LA will drive reforms across the country. At the same time, those who’ve worked hard for this victory expect that there could be a battle going forward and implementation of the measure to oversee the Sheriff’s Department.
It isn’t likely to be smooth, but they’re prepared to go forward. They’ve learned how to put these measures on the ballot and go directly to the public.
“This is the first time in Los Angeles’ history that the people have taken criminal justice reform to the ballot box, and I certainly don’t think it’ll be the last,” Cullors said. “We made history.”