The long awaited Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence report on jail violence was issued at the end of last week, and it levied long and heavy blame against Los Angeles’s longtime Sheriff, Lee Baca.
Describing what happened in the county’s jail system as a result of his “failure of leadership,” the panel decided to recommend that Baca remain in command and be given the opportunity to institute a series of further reforms to overhaul not only the jail system, but the culture of violence that marred the reputation of the Sheriff Department.
The blurring of roles between deputies and inmates in certain cases made their investigation difficult. The CCJV alluded to problems in the report’s executive summary, saying that just as inmates have a pre-disposition to fabricating stories to inflict harm upon their jailors, Sheriff Deputies are likely inclined to protect themselves.
However, the team of seven commissioners and 68 support staff and lawyers sorted through more than 70 sworn statements and testimony from a variety of sources.
Among the challenges that the CCJV identified is simply the scale of the responsibility left to Sheriff Baca. He is in charge of a department comprised of 17,000 sworn and civilian employees. Not only are they responsible for jailing offenders, deputies provide police services to more than half of the County’s cities, and to its unincorporated areas as well. The massive structure of the department, implied by the CCJV, virtually destined a Sheriff to failure at some point.
It was not until public scrutiny and pressure that a fundamental examination of the jails and the culture of violence therein contained was performed. Since those earliest steps, reports of violence have dropped, further corroborating testimony from inmates and others that much of the violence was “unnecessary, excessive, and in violation of the Department’s policies.”
A further solution investigated by the Commissioners was to take the responsibilities for jails away from Baca and the Sheriff’s Office and establish a county Department of Corrections. However, that recommendation was discarded.
77 other recommendations were included in the final report, ranging from changes to how oversight is handled to how the department should be structured to use of force, discipline, training, personnel, and cultural policies should be altered.
In all, the County, its residents, and the CCJV are all looking to the Sheriff to see how and how quickly he responds.