Celebrities, activists, the community at large and others move forward with reforming L.A. County Jails through the ballot
Los Angeles, CA – Reform L.A. Jails kicked off a signature-gathering campaign Saturday to place the Reform Jails and Community Reinvestment Initiative ballot measure on the November ballot for L.A. County voters.
Nearly 100 people attended the event to officially launch a citizen-driven effort to give the Sheriff’s Department Civilian Oversight Commission subpoena power to effectively investigate deputy misconduct. The proposed ballot measure also seeks to ensure that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the governing body for America’s most populous county and largest jail system, invests some of the $3.5 billion planned for building new jails into providing alternatives to incarceration.
The event was held in the Figueroa Corridor near USC at Mercado La Paloma and was emceed by veteran talk radio host Dominique DiPrima (KJLH-FM) and featured family members of those who died while in custody of the Sheriff’s Department were still seeking answers.
Juan Manuel Correa Sr. and Maria A. Correa, the father and mother of Juan Manuel Correa Jr., who died while jailed in 2017 shared the story of their son who they say was wrongfully denied medical care after being pepper-sprayed by sheriff’s deputies and shot with a stun gun.
Moved to tears while speaking about her son, Mrs. Correa told the crowd gathered that she was not an activist but was moved to become one after learning about the conditions in the jails.
“More jails is not good for anybody,” said Mrs. Correa. “My son got more sick since he started going in and out of jails. Mentally, emotionally–anything and in every way my son was getting worse and worse and worse. Not only drugs, not only problems–it was jails. Jails are not good for nobody. We have to work together. We have to put our efforts together as much as we can to save lives. Why they think our childrens or peoples in jails are animals. They’re not animals. They act like animals treating them like that.”
Saharra White, the mother of Quinten Thomas’ eighteen-month-old daughter, held back tears when trying to describe how she found out about the death of her child’s father on March 9 while incarcerated in jail. Thomas was a student at California State University, Northridge and a graduate of the foster care system in Los Angeles who was working toward his baccalaureate degree in health administration.
White says that the Sheriff’s Department has provided very little information about Thomas’ death.
“They didn’t release his body until March 30th finally,” a teary eyed White shared while holding her daughter. “They wouldn’t let us go see the body when we asked about it. They were like no because he was in jail he was fingerprinted so his body is already identified. I don’t believe them, I really don’t. And it’s sad because he really loved his daughter. Like–I promise you he was just trying to do good. He was in his fourth year going to school. He wanted to be a registered nurse. He had everything planned out. And now she has to grow up with no daddy and it’s hard because I lost my daddy to the system when I was four too. He got 25 to life right now. Now she’s going to grow up with no daddy.”
“I take a look at the largest jail system in the world–in L.A.,” actor and activist Matt McGorry (Orange Is the New Black, How to Get Away With Murder) told the crowd Saturday. “I take a look at 60,000 homeless people and I take a look at $3.5 billion that is about to go to new jail systems that will disproportionately feed on the lives of people of color and I am furious.”
A surprise appearance was made by Thaddeus J. Culpepper, the defense attorney for rap mogul Suge Knight. Knight has been jailed in downtown Los Angeles since January 2015 on charges of murder. Culpepper discussed the deliberate inadequate treatment of his client’s health conditions while in custody of Sheriff’s Department.
“There are two unacceptable problems with LA’s jail system–millions of dollars wasted on a revolving door and no accountability for the people in charge of running the largest jail system in the world,” said proponent Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Dignity and Power Now and JusticeLA.
“LA’s jail system is broken. It’s costly and ineffective, wasting millions of dollars to incarcerate people struggling with mental illness, addiction and homelessness and there’s also no accountability for misconduct and abuse by sheriff’s deputies.”
“The Civilian Oversight Commission needs additional authority to ensure transparency and accountability in law enforcement in L.A. County,” added proponent and current Civilian Oversight Commissioner Loyola Law School Associate Professor Priscilla Ocen. “Subpoena power will enable us to require the Sheriff’s Department to divulge information. It will allow us to call relevant staff and personnel to provide testimony on issues of concern to the Commission and to the community. It will allow the community to ask important questions and to demand answers so that we can respond and ensure that we have an equitable system of policing in L.A. County.”
“When we were established it [subpoena power] was not a part of our charge and it requires a change to the county charter and that’s what the initiative provides,” continued Ocen.
“Right now we have a sort of convoluted process. We have to make a request to our executive director who then makes a request to the Office of the Inspector General who has a separate agreement with the Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department responds to the OIG. The OIG lets us know whether or not they’re going to provide the information. So it’s this long convoluted process and at times the information that we’ve requested is significantly delayed or or outright denied. At this point we need additional powers so that we can ensure we have the information we need to serve the constituents and communities of L.A. County to make important decisions and recommendations. To engage in independent oversight. That’s what we’re tasked to do and this ballot measure will enable us to carry out that charge.”
Reform L.A. Jails has until June to gather over 150,000 signatures to place the measure on the November ballot.
The Coalition plans to hold various signature gathering events throughout L.A. County.
For more information, get involved, and to read the entire ballot initiative, click here.