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LA County Supervisors debate reforms on jail violence

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The L.A. County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday debated how best to implement reforms recommended last week by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence. Supervisor Gloria Molina Tuesday said persuading Sheriff Lee Baca to address deputy-on-inmate violence over the years hasn’t been easy.

“It's been like pulling teeth,” an exasperated Molina. “How do we change the status quo?”

The commission described “a persistent pattern of unreasonable force” at the jails, and said Baca “enabled or failed to remediate overly aggressive deputy behavior.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas wondered whether the creation of an inspector general — a key recommendation of the panel — would be enough to hold Baca accountable. The sheriff's position is an elected office so, even if reforms are implemented, Baca would still control access to his department.

“Too much of what is being proposed is discretionary and negotiated,” Ridley-Thomas said. He said any new auditor of the sheriff needs the “force of law” behind him or her.

But other board members appeared unwilling to seek the state legislation likely needed for such authority, and expressed more confidence in Baca.

“Right now, it has to start at the top,” said Supervisor Don Knabe.

The chief lawyer of the jail violence panel said he believed an inspector general would be a “powerful force” for reform.

“I think it will be difficult for any sheriff to not follow recommendations,” said Richard Drooyan.

Baca has said he will implement the panel’s recommendations, which include hiring an outside corrections expert to run the jails and improved training and supervision of guards.  The sheriff also has said he’s already enacted reforms that have dramatically reduced use-of-force against inmates.

“What we’ve seen are stop-gap measures,” said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of the jail panel. “Force problems remain.”

Krinsky also told the board the sheriff has yet to discipline commanders for problems at the jail.

“We are troubled that today, none of his senior managers have been held accountable.”

Baca has said that he had been kept in the dark by his staff about conditions at the jails. Molina said that undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who formerly managed the jails, had been "insubordinate."

The supervisors took no action on the panel’s recommendations. Sheriff Baca is scheduled to address the board next week.


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