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L.A. County supervisors approve funds for jail reforms

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A year after a citizens' commission handed down an extensive set of recommendations for preventing the abuse of jail inmates, Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to pay for many of the reforms.

The board unanimously voted to authorize $29.3 million for the first year of a three-year plan that includes hiring more managers to oversee deputies, expanding training and installing more video cameras in the jails.

The changes are expected to cost $89.8 million over three years.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has faced federal scrutiny and a barrage of lawsuits over allegations that there has been a pattern of mistreatment of inmates by jailers and deputies.

The money approved Tuesday will go to hire 130 staff members, including more supervisors in the jails, lieutenants to oversee use-of-force investigations, internal affairs and training staff, and to install more cameras to capture the actions of inmates and guards.

Separately, the board is moving to hire an inspector general for the Sheriff's Department as recommended by the jail violence commission. Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina have also proposed setting up a permanent citizens' oversight commission, but the proposal has so far failed to get support from the rest of the board.

Steve Whitmore, spokesman for Sheriff Lee Baca, said of the measures approved Tuesday, "We're grateful, obviously. We applaud the board's commitment to implementing all the reforms, because the sheriff said from the very beginning, when [the recommendations] were first issued, that he couldn't write them better himself."

The jail reform measures were nearly derailed, however, when the supervisors reached an impasse over parts of the budget plan that would fund it.

The supervisors were slated to approve a $362.4 million supplemental budget, which included money for the jail reforms, a contract for 500 jail beds at a facility in Kern County and additional social workers for the county's embattled child welfare department.

In an unusual move, Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich voted against approving the budget, which requires yes votes from four of the five supervisors.

Ridley-Thomas wanted to know how $75 million in capital project and maintenance money would be divided among the five supervisors' districts.

"What is a fair formula for the distribution of those unallocated dollars?" he said in an interview after the vote. "We ought to have a fully clarified discussion of what the distribution of those resources are. We haven't had that discussion."

The failure of the budget vote led Molina to exclaim, "Just like the feds, we have no budget?" and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky called the move to block it "tea party-esque."

Delaying funding for the jail reforms "would not have been a very smart thing to do with the Justice Department breathing down our necks," Yaroslavsky said.

The stalemate was short-lived, however. At the end of the meeting, the supervisors came back for a second vote and unanimously passed the budget, with the caveat that the maintenance and capital project money would go into an account that requires three votes rather than four to approve spending.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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