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By the same token, it’s acknowledged that the main troublemakers should be removed from the general population, just as one would do in the case ofchildren fighting on a playground. Thus, last week, Sheriff Baca reiterated plans to shift Castaic’s most violent inmates to the more controllable Twin Towers facility — a move that has long been talked about, yet not previously affordable.
“But unless you want to duplicate a [federal] prison like Marion, with lockdown all the time,” says Mike Gennaco, the chief attorney who independently reviews L.A. Sheriff’s Department’s actions, “we’ve got to do a lot more.” Gennaco and the Board of Supervisors’ jail monitor, Merrick Bobb, have emphasized the need for an all-hands-on-deck push to step up deputy recruitment, possibly including bonuses for those working the jails. “Too few deputies guarding too many inmates,” says Gennaco, results in a reliance on a command-and-control model that is never healthy, either for prisoners or for those guarding them.
Jail watchers, ranging from Gennaco and ACLU Jails Project coordinator Jody Kent to community activists like Bishop Turner, all underscore that merely managing the “bad” inmates will not solve anything in the long term. For real change to take place, they say, the emotional health of the rest of the inmates must be fortified through the use of various programs like GED classes, anger-management groups, Amer-I-Can “life skills” courses, plus lesser-known strategies like the innovative, prison-incubated 12-step program, CGA — Criminals and Gangsters Anonymous.
“We’ve seen some real success stories work on a smaller scale that we should use as models,” says Gennaco. “For example, the veterans have a treatment program for vet inmates that’s been excellent.”
“But here’s the thing,” says Kent, “we have to make these programs available to more than just a few hundred inmates. Then, I guarantee you’ll see the stress level inside jail drop, and the problems diminish.”
Sheriff Baca, who sounds understandably tired these days, says he’s not against any of it, that in fact he welcomes any and all creative ideas. “But there is no magic. And most of it takes money,” he says. “It’s all about the almighty dollar.”
“The most daunting challenge,” adds Gennaco, “is that just when we’ve agreed on solutions, the public’s attention will have moved on.”
And along with it, the will and the money needed to prevent the next explosion.
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