An L.A. County supervisor’s plan to “depopulate and decarcerate” county jails by bringing back the emergency COVID-19 bail schedule and expanding the county’s “cite-and-release” policies was swiftly scuttled after it drew fierce criticism from two members of the Board of Supervisors and the community.
A motion on Tuesday’s agenda, which comes after back-to-back years of increasing crime according to Sheriff’s Department data, is now being sent back to county staff for reconsideration, according to a statement from Supervisor Hilda Solis, one of the motion’s authors.
“I introduced the motion on ‘Los Angeles County to Take Actionable Next Steps to Depopulate and Decarcerate the Los Angeles County Jails’ as a way to strike a balance with both justice-involved advocates and public safety representatives,” according to a statement from Solis shared Monday morning by Solis spokeswoman Kimberly Ortega. “Additionally, with the federal consent decrees and settlement agreements, including a potential receivership from the state, I felt this move was necessary.”
Solis was referring to a 2014 agreement with the Department of Justice regarding the settlement of an ACLU lawsuit due to the county’s jails being overpopulated. The agenda item also notes the county is housing approximately 1,400 inmates who’ve been sentenced to state prison time.
Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, co-author of the motion and representative of the 3rd District, which includes the San Fernando Valley, did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
However, by Monday morning, the feedback from the community persuaded Solis to call for sending the motion back to staff for reconsideration.
“My office has received concerns from a variety of stakeholders — those who feel the motion is not doing enough and those who feel it is doing too much,” she said in the statement issued Monday. “To that end, I will be referring the motion back to my office so that I can continue to gather input from all stakeholders. We must help balance the needs of public safety while also getting into compliance with our federal obligations.”
A statement from Solis’ office also said the supervisor had been planning to bring the motion as a way to encourage the sheriff to use electronic monitoring versus incarceration; bring back the $0 COVID bail schedule; requesting the state take custody of its prisoners, which includes about 10% of the local jail population; and push for legislative changes at the state level.
Reports of the initial motion drew a swift condemnation from 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley.
“A policy discussion as high-stakes as depopulating our county’s jail must include collaboration and input from law enforcement partners. This motion has failed to do that so I cannot support it,” Barger wrote in a statement issued Monday morning. “I do support balanced reform efforts but not at the expense of community safety.”
The motion did not identify how the county would pay for any future costs associated with the wide-ranging expansion of things including court-support services, such as transportation for those in need, and programs that offer alternatives to incarceration. However, it noted in 2021 the county authorized $200 million for the first two years of its Care First Community Investment Budget Policy, which is part of its “Care first, jails last” agenda, according to county documents.
The agenda item also noted “the board has limited authority to decarcerate and divert as these authorities lie largely with the state, Legislature, governor, Los Angeles Superior Court and the Los Angeles County sheriff.”
The Sheriff’s Information Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the motion Monday.
But statements from Barger and Supervisor Janice Hahn, who also issued a statement against the motion, indicated they felt there wasn’t enough collaboration with the county’s largest law enforcement agency, LASD, or smaller, local ones, before the motion was introduced.
“This board has taken steps to divert people from our jails safely, but Men’s Central Jail continues to be overcrowded and dangerous for both our inmates and our deputies. That being said, I have concerns with this proposal and its potential impact on public safety, and I cannot support it,” Hahn said in a statement released Monday. “Any plan to reduce the population of our jails needs to be decided in partnership with law enforcement, our deputy district attorneys, and our courts. I understand that my colleague plans to pull this item from the agenda and I think that is the right decision.”
Both Barger and Solis said in their statements that part of the problem with the county’s criminal justice system is its inadequate systems for dealing with men and women experiencing mental health crises.
Barger noted more than 40% of those incarcerated have mental health concerns, but added that addressing those needs must be done with the safety of the community in mind also.