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Will the L.A. jails commission's findings result in real reforms?

September 08, 2012|By Sandra Hernandez
  • Sheriff Lee Baca has come under fire for problems at the L.A. County jails.
Sheriff Lee Baca has come under fire for problems at the L.A. County jails. (Reed Saxon/ Associated…)

The citizen's commission created to investigate allegations of violence inside the Los Angeles County jail system held its final meeting Friday. Though there were few surprises in what investigators reported, the findings were still very disturbing.

For example, investigators for the Los Angeles County Citizens Commission on Jail Violence found that the Sheriff’s Department has known about problems with deputy cliques in and outside the jails for years but failed to address them. And investigators also reported that Undersheriff Paul Tanaka vetoed efforts to address the problem inside Men's Central Jail -- something Tanaka disputes.

OK, that’s not a revelation if you are a reader who has been following the coverage of the jails written by my colleagues Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard. But the findings did prompt an interesting question from one woman in the audience who spoke during the public comment section of the hearing. She asked the members how they can guarantee that this commission’s work will result in real and lasting change.

That's the real key to all of the work the commission is doing, and one that should be on the seven members' minds given Sheriff Lee Baca’s appearance before the group in July. At that time, Baca took full responsibility for past errors but also appeared cold to the idea of more reforms.

At one point during the July hearing, an attorney with the commission asked the sheriff: “How do we hold you accountable?” Baca's response was to tell the commission that voters can simply choose not to reelect him. He similarly dismissed questions about discipline, saying: “This commission is a great commission…. But you're not going to tell me how to discipline my people."

It’s true that only voters can opt to fire Baca, but it’s worrisome that the sheriff took such a stance. The county has paid millions to defend lawsuits filed by inmates who have allegedly been abused. Baca appeared to be saying that the only place he can be held accountable is at the ballot box.

The commission is scheduled to release its recommendations next month.

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