Los Angeles County Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.
Los Angeles County Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.

In its first status report on Los Angeles County jail reforms, the Office of Inspector General said commanders were committed to reforms, but changing the attitudes of some deputies would be a slow, difficult process.

Inspector General Max Huntsman told the Board of Supervisors his report didn’t differ significantly from the last update they’d heard from monitor Richard Drooyan, who had been following up on the work of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence.

However, the OIG report provides more commentary around what is happening in the jails.

“It appears to the OIG that the department’s entire command staff is committed to reforms that emphasize respect for, engagement of and communication with prisoners,” according to the report, which offers examples of initiatives to bring comfort dogs to work with mentally ill inmates and gender-responsive training for deputies working with female inmates.

However, “some department personnel continue to hold troubling attitudes and beliefs which are reflected in their conduct toward prisoners and colleagues,” the report says. “These attitudes and beliefs may be deeply embedded, and changing them is a slow and difficult process.”

Anecdotes of good and bad behavior by deputies made it clear that reform remains a work in progress.

One inmate was left “tethered” and in restraints for more than an hour following a strip search in a holding area, leading to an internal affairs investigation and the transfer of some deputies, according to the report.

Two other deputies were observed working patiently for nearly an hour to verbally coax a mentally ill prisoner out of his cell.

The report also showed that the OIG is working on the front line to assess progress, “rolling out” with the Sheriff’s Department Custody Force Review Committee to four use-of-force incidents — one in which a Taser was used on an inmate, one large inmate disturbance, a strip search and takedown, and one cell extraction.

“I appreciate that extra set of eyes,” Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald told the board.

However, Huntsman said there were several issues he had very little ability to assess until he’s granted access to personnel records. Interim Sheriff John Scott remains concerned about the confidentiality surrounding such files and has declined to turn them over, though county attorneys are working on the issue.

Huntsman said personnel information is critical to analysis across the board. He offered an example related to the nearly 2,000 video cameras that have been installed in county jails.

“If you want to know whether or not the cameras are effective, you don’t know that without looking at the personnel records to see if the cameras were helpful in those individual disciplinary cases,” Huntsman said.

Other new technology in the jails includes a pilot program in which inmates use iPads to lodge complaints about conditions and grievances against specific deputies. Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald called the pilot a success and said she looked forward to expanding the program.

McDonald gave her own report to the board, saying she was worried about a more than 30 percent increase in reports of use-of-force incidents at the Men’s Central Jail, Century Regional Detention Facility and North County Correctional Facility.

“Looking at the force incidents, I’m not seeing what I would call unnecessary excessive force, abusive force, but just the total number has me concerned and has the sheriff concerned,” McDonald said.

Supervisor Don Knabe pointed out that the shift could be due to increasing awareness that all such incidents had to be reported.

McDonald agreed that was possible, but said she would continue to closely monitor the situation.

— City News Service

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