The Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence has spent the better part of this year listening to testimony and reviewing thousands of documents, and soon it will propose fixes for the problems it has identified. It faces a daunting task.
For starters, the commission must decide whether reform of the long-troubled county jails is possible under Sheriff Lee Baca, who has emerged in the testimony as an out-of-touch figure overly reliant on his command staff. The sheriff has proved ineffective, at best, at running the jails. He blames his staff for keeping him in the dark about inmate abuse and other misconduct by deputies, yet despite repeated complaints over a period of years, he hasn't held anyone accountable or made significant staff changes.
He failed to file inmate complaints in
the personnel records of deputies accused of misconduct, making it nearly impossible for such evidence to be used by inmates in criminal defense trials. Although Baca says he's taken steps to reduce abuse in recent months, there's no way to know whether the reduction will continue once he and his office are out of the spotlight.
The commission should also consider whether the current department structure makes sense in a county as vast as Los Angeles. Can a single sheriff manage the largest jail system in the nation as well as providing public safety to dozens of cities and unincorporated areas? One suggestion that has been made is to split the department and hire an independent corrections expert to run the jails with the help of professional guards; the expert might report to the sheriff, or directly to the county Board of Supervisors. The sheriff would retain full authority over patrols, with deputies assigned to the streets instead of working as jailers, which they weren't trained to do.