Jails, gangs and the homeless discussed

The Times is asking the two major candidates competing to succeed Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke about some key issues in the 2nd District, which stretches from Mar Vista through South Los Angeles and into Compton and Carson.

Today, Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks and state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) offer their ideas for addressing jail overcrowding, gangs and the homeless.

Between now and the June 3 election, the candidates will discuss other issues in this series of occasional articles.

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What are your ideas for alleviating the overcrowding at county jail facilities that has contributed to violence there and prompted the early release of inmates?

Parks: State prisoner transfers and immigration hearings should be expedited so that space can be freed up as rapidly as possible, but at minimum the county should be paid for the cell space provided to both state or federal jurisdictions for sentenced prisoners or detainees awaiting immigration hearings.

The sheriff has proposed, and I support, a $523-million capital budget to further expand and improve facilities at the Men's Central Jail, the Pitchess Detention Center and the Sybil Brand Institute. We must consciously try to keep people out of jail in the first place, address their needs and addictions while incarcerated and keep them from coming back.

Ridley-Thomas: We must have effective crime prevention, intervention and rehabilitation programs that steer people away from crime.[But] we are not going to reach every potential high-risk offender in L.A. County through prevention or intervention programs, so expanding our county's jail system is a necessity.

That is why I joined with Sheriff Lee Baca to support revising the formula for allocating funds under AB 900, a state prison and jail construction funds measure. L.A. County has been losing out on jail construction funds. I will continue my push for the state jail funds that L.A. County deserves.

We must work effectively to streamline the judicial pretrial process -- without compromising anyone's rights to due process -- to lower the duration of jail detention periods.

We must . . . increase the number and scope of diversion programs available to nonviolent offenders. We must make the best use of house arrest or home detention sentencing options, and use electronic monitoring to lessen the growing inmate load on our jails and preserve crowded cell space for violent criminals and people awaiting trial . . . [on] violent crimes.

Lastly, we need to convince Californians that now is time to reform our state's three-strikes law . . . to limit the scope of the third strike to violent felonies.

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The county spends more than $100 million each year on gang suppression, intervention and prevention programs. What is your assessment of the county's efforts?

Parks: In my 38 years of law enforcement experience . . . it [has become] apparent to me that the only well thought out strategy is creating a full spectrum approach to social justice, which includes prevention, intervention, education, enforcement, prosecution, incarceration and rehabilitation with adequate funding and evaluation for each segment and an insistence that these complex issues be addressed jointly and in a comprehensive manner. Although I have seen many programs . . . there are two that I would support as examples of regional multidiscipline efforts that are worthy of expansion and future funding.

One is the Community Law Enforcement and Recovery (CLEAR) program. The other is a program begun by the county's Community Development Commission labeled the Florence-Firestone Community Enhancement Team.

CLEAR is a regional partnership between the county and city of Los Angeles specifically designed to combat community quality of life issues, including gang violence. In the CLEAR model, the LAPD and sheriff address visible gang activity in target neighborhoods; the city attorney and the county district attorney issue gang injunctions and vigorously prosecute criminal activity and quality of life issues; probation officers work to ensure that convicted criminals receive appropriate conditions of probation; and . . . [others] work together on . . . neighborhood recovery, cleanup, code enforcement and quality of life issues.

In neighborhoods where CLEAR has been deployed, all crime . . . has been reduced significantly. The second program reflects a philosophy that all public services should be viewed as instruments to assure safe neighborhoods within safe communities within safe cities within a safe county. There are 18 county departments whose services impact the public safety environment. A very good example of this philosophy . . . exists in the Florence-Firestone community, one of the roughest and most blighted areas in the region. Crime has dropped in the area over the last two years because the community and multiple county services combined their efforts.

Homicides are down by half and over 100 members of a local "targeted street gang" have been indicted. Retail stores . . . have moved into the area, as have new restaurants.

Ridley-Thomas: When you spend $100 million per year on gang programs, there is an expectation that there will be measurable progress in reducing the level of gang violence. But I do not believe anyone in our county feels we are getting the best return on our anti-gang suppression, intervention and prevention investment.

It is clear we must have a comprehensive approach for dealing with gangs and confronting unlawful gang activity in our communities. We must also work diligently to keep our next generation of young people out of criminal gangs altogether.

In many communities, residents feel under siege and helpless to stop the escalating violence around them. If there is a concerted effort to involve and include residents in planning and implementing anti-gang strategies, they will support an approach that empowers them to bring about meaningful change in their neighborhoods.

I worked to develop the Gang Intervention Certification Program in cooperation with the Pat Brown Institute and Cal State L.A. We enrolled former gang members in an intensive course of study to learn effective tools and strategies to work as peacemakers, facilitators and intervention specialists in community outreach efforts to work with young African American and Latino gang members.

When elected, I will appoint a deputy for Public Safety & Gang Intervention to work in partnership with officials in cities and residents in unincorporated areas to develop public safety plans tailored to their specific community needs.

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Efforts have stalled to create a new center to aid the 2nd District's estimated 16,000 homeless people, at least in part because of a dispute over its location. How would you resolve this situation, and what area of the district would be the most appropriate site?

Parks: The 2nd District leads the county in residents that are homeless, receive Section 8 housing vouchers and live in unauthorized housing. Adopted in 2006, the county's Homeless Prevention Initiative was intended to establish "Stabilization Centers" in each of the five supervisorial districts. That objective has not succeeded, mainly because of the opposition of many communities to the placement of such centers within their boundaries.

Thanks to the efforts of the Los Angeles City Council, the 2nd District already has what amounts to a functioning stabilization center in the form of New Image on Broadway Place. Established in 2003, New Image provides 600 beds and has moved more than 3,000 people to transitional or permanent housing.

Also located in the 2nd District and operated by New Image, Project Fresh Start provides 50 beds for women and combines housing placement with job training, computer education, life skills and mental health and health care. It makes little sense to continue centralizing homeless services in downtown Los Angeles. . . . . Homelessness is a countywide issue. Also, it is not wise to pursue a super-sized "stabilization center" when successful models like New Image and Project Fresh Start already exist and could work quite effectively [elsewhere].

Ridley-Thomas: Homelessness is an economic, healthcare and moral issue that I have addressed . . . as a member of the state Proposition 63 Mental Health Oversight Commission . . . [which supports]county-based homeless community outreach facilities, mental health treatment, chronic and acute health services and mental health counseling.

As chair of Days of Dialogue, a nonprofit organization that brings together a diverse array of leaders and community residents for dialogues on major issues affecting our community, I brought focused community attention to the issue of mental health and its connection to homelessness in our communities.

Every district in L.A. County needs permanent supportive solutions that enable homeless individuals and families to move from a life on the street or a temporary encampment to stable housing where they can receive health services, mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, job assistance and a transition to a permanent affordable housing environment.

Community residents must be included and involved in the decision-making process . . . [to] reach a community consensus on where homeless assistance is best located.

We must do everything within our power to promote affordable housing construction, particularly in this time of sustained economic downturn that [is] pushing many working families in L.A. County to the brink of homelessness.

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On latimes.com

Candidates forum

These answers have been edited for space reasons, but the full responses appear at

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