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Local Elections / L.A. County Board of Supervisors

Jails, gangs and the homeless discussed

May 22, 2008

The Times is asking the two major candidates competing to succeed Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke about some key issues in the 2nd District, which stretches from Mar Vista through South Los Angeles and into Compton and Carson.

Today, Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks and state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) offer their ideas for addressing jail overcrowding, gangs and the homeless.

Between now and the June 3 election, the candidates will discuss other issues in this series of occasional articles.

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What are your ideas for alleviating the overcrowding at county jail facilities that has contributed to violence there and prompted the early release of inmates?

Parks: State prisoner transfers and immigration hearings should be expedited so that space can be freed up as rapidly as possible, but at minimum the county should be paid for the cell space provided to both state or federal jurisdictions for sentenced prisoners or detainees awaiting immigration hearings.

The sheriff has proposed, and I support, a $523-million capital budget to further expand and improve facilities at the Men's Central Jail, the Pitchess Detention Center and the Sybil Brand Institute. We must consciously try to keep people out of jail in the first place, address their needs and addictions while incarcerated and keep them from coming back.

Ridley-Thomas: We must have effective crime prevention, intervention and rehabilitation programs that steer people away from crime.[But] we are not going to reach every potential high-risk offender in L.A. County through prevention or intervention programs, so expanding our county's jail system is a necessity.

That is why I joined with Sheriff Lee Baca to support revising the formula for allocating funds under AB 900, a state prison and jail construction funds measure. L.A. County has been losing out on jail construction funds. I will continue my push for the state jail funds that L.A. County deserves.

We must work effectively to streamline the judicial pretrial process -- without compromising anyone's rights to due process -- to lower the duration of jail detention periods.

We must . . . increase the number and scope of diversion programs available to nonviolent offenders. We must make the best use of house arrest or home detention sentencing options, and use electronic monitoring to lessen the growing inmate load on our jails and preserve crowded cell space for violent criminals and people awaiting trial . . . [on] violent crimes.

Lastly, we need to convince Californians that now is time to reform our state's three-strikes law . . . to limit the scope of the third strike to violent felonies.

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The county spends more than $100 million each year on gang suppression, intervention and prevention programs. What is your assessment of the county's efforts?

Parks: In my 38 years of law enforcement experience . . . it [has become] apparent to me that the only well thought out strategy is creating a full spectrum approach to social justice, which includes prevention, intervention, education, enforcement, prosecution, incarceration and rehabilitation with adequate funding and evaluation for each segment and an insistence that these complex issues be addressed jointly and in a comprehensive manner. Although I have seen many programs . . . there are two that I would support as examples of regional multidiscipline efforts that are worthy of expansion and future funding.

One is the Community Law Enforcement and Recovery (CLEAR) program. The other is a program begun by the county's Community Development Commission labeled the Florence-Firestone Community Enhancement Team.

CLEAR is a regional partnership between the county and city of Los Angeles specifically designed to combat community quality of life issues, including gang violence. In the CLEAR model, the LAPD and sheriff address visible gang activity in target neighborhoods; the city attorney and the county district attorney issue gang injunctions and vigorously prosecute criminal activity and quality of life issues; probation officers work to ensure that convicted criminals receive appropriate conditions of probation; and . . . [others] work together on . . . neighborhood recovery, cleanup, code enforcement and quality of life issues.

In neighborhoods where CLEAR has been deployed, all crime . . . has been reduced significantly. The second program reflects a philosophy that all public services should be viewed as instruments to assure safe neighborhoods within safe communities within safe cities within a safe county. There are 18 county departments whose services impact the public safety environment. A very good example of this philosophy . . . exists in the Florence-Firestone community, one of the roughest and most blighted areas in the region. Crime has dropped in the area over the last two years because the community and multiple county services combined their efforts.

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