Donning orange T-shirts reading “I am not the property of L.A. County jail,” dozens of protesters, led by Black Lives Matter and Justice LA, descended this week upon the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration to protest the proposed expansion of jail facilities in Los Angeles County.
The protest took place prior to the scheduled meeting of the Board of Supervisors who were to discuss the proposed $3.5 billion expenditure to expand Men’s Central Jail. The protesters stated that the county has overestimated the need for more jail beds and suggested the money would be better spent on community programs. After shouting “No more jails,” they presented a motion to the Board urging a moratorium on jail construction.
The Sheriff’s Department wants to build a 3,885-bed replacement for Men’s Central Jail and renovate the vacant Mira Loma Detention Center into a 1,600-bed women’s facility in Lancaster, which would effectively replace the department’s Lynwood facility.
Currently, 40 percent of female inmates in Sheriff’s Department custody are Latino, with 32 percent African American. Male prisoners number approximately 50 percent Latino and roughly 30 percent Black. These numbers amount to more than 80 percent of prisoners being persons of color with African Americans, in particular, comprising less than nine percent of county population.
The regions that may be impacted most by incarceration, according to the motion presented on Tuesday, are supervisorial districts one and two, which are generally East and South Los Angeles. Representatives of Justice LA said these low-income, working-class areas often find persons arrested who have never been convicted of a crime and are too poor to post bail.
There are plans to build a jail to provide treatment and referrals to mentally-ill prisoners, but this facility reportedly won’t be staffed with an adequate number of health care workers. District Attorney Jackie Lacey has said that there are approximately 3,000 mentally ill persons incarcerated locally, resulting in “essentially turning the jail into a psychiatric ward.”
Justice LA is advocating for AB 109 realignment funding to be redirected toward community-based alternatives instead of jails to address communities with the highest rates of imprisonment.
“I believe that the County Board of Supervisors should have a commission to study alternatives to jails,” said Patrisse Cullors, a representative of Justice LA and Black Lives Matter. “With $3.5 billion, we could support people who are houseless and getting them homes. We could support children who have little access to getting healthy food. I’m a lover of life, and I deeply believe in humanity’s ability to do better than we’re currently doing.”
Among the groups aligning themselves with the campaign are Dignity and Power Now, ACLU of Southern California, California Immigrant Policy Center, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Justice Warriors 4 Black Lives, and Stop LAPD Spying Coaliton.