April 16, 2020 

By Charlene Muhammad 

Contributing Writer 


Current and formerly incarcerated people, defense attorneys, organizers, advocates and community-based organizations held a car march in Downtown Los Angeles to call attention to the extreme dangers facing youth and others under probation custody and supervision.


The demonstration is one of several ways they have called for the release of as many detained and incarcerated young people and adults as possible in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.


They also want an immediate release of all misdemeanors, low level felonies and technical probation violations from jails, juvenile halls and camps, and no new detentions on such charges.


The April 7 “car march” circled the block of the Clara Shortridge Foltz Courthouse, where criminal cases are heard, and L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office.


“The County is paying attention,” announced the coalition of advocates in a March 31 email blast by Youth Justice Coalition, which works for juvenile justice and prison reforms. 

“Nearly 2,000 people have already been released, handsome people are getting free phone calls.  But, this is far too few people freed, and conditions inside - including access to free phone calls, access to disinfectants and medical care, lack of programming, cell confinement, and lack of education - are not significantly improving,” it continued.


Earlier that day, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion authored by Supervisors Hilda Solis and co-authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, to enhance efforts to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in County jails and at juvenile halls and camps.


“Individuals at our custody facilities return to their local communities within days or weeks, leaving the possibility that they may spread COVID-19 if exposed to the virus by another incarcerated person or staff member,” said Solis. “To gain an upper hand on this highly contagious virus, we must vigilantly protect those in our custody and make sure our employees who work at these facilities are kept safe and healthy. Economically disadvantaged communities make up the majority of our incarcerated population, and they are the people who suffer the most from limited access to high-quality health care,” she said.


“Reducing the risk of COVID-19 spreading within Los Angeles County’s jail system, as well as in the juvenile halls and probation camps, is critical for protecting those who are in the County’s care as well as for ensuring the safety of thousands of personnel who work in those facilities,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “With this motion, the Board is committing to further reducing the number of adults and youth incarcerated as a prevention strategy, enhancing screening and hygiene, and increasing protections for vulnerable populations like the elderly, pregnant women, and other individuals with compromised immune systems. We are in unprecedented times where lives are at stake, and must do everything possible to protect vulnerable populations, including those in the County’s custody,” he added.


The coalition of more than 60 groups and organizations sent their demands to all L.A. County officials, including L.A. County Probation chiefs, L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore, L.A. County Board Supervisors, D.A. Lacey, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, on March 16. 


Other demands included courts reviewing all other cases for release; conduct pre-arraignment assessments within 12 hours; guarantee 48-hour arraignment for all ages; stop assessment and collection of all system fees and fines; and grant access to quality education for youth in custody, including online learning, support for IEPs or those requiring special education instruction, and English Language learners, and college classes for high school graduates.


In addition, advocates want an end of transfers to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and transfers from juvenile halls to jails, and, provide free phone calls, stamps, masks, and disinfectant for all.


“People inside lockups are in extremely crowded conditions.  There’s no social distancing. People have no access to masks or disinfected or hand sanitizer, even when they're begging for it, despite the fact that those systems get hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to keep each person chained in the juvenile system and in the adult system - nearly 100,000 year for each person detained,” stated Kim McGill, an organizer with Youth Justice Coalition.


“The fact that people are in conditions that the state is making so much money off of their bodies but they’re not protected and their health is not prioritized if particularly racist and dehumanizing, so I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that the pandemic is going to spread very quickly,” said McGill.


Many in the coalition have long-pushed for some of the demands, while a few are new in light of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggestions that between 160 million and 210 million Americans could contract the virus over as long as a year, according to the correspondence.


Using current mortality data and hospital capacity, the number of deaths under the CDC's predictions range from 200,000 to as many as 1.7 million, indicated their letter.  They further stated that they just don’t feel that system-involved youth and adults, nor their families and communities, are protected against the health risks of COVID-19.


Federal, state and local government regular pronouncements of guidelines around containment, testing and treatment plans often omit the most vulnerable and invisible individuals under custody and supervision, advocates argue.  “While we appreciate the efforts that LA County Probation has taken to post protocols on the Department’s website, the current protocols are severely lacking,” they added.

Category: News