Despite the United States accounting for around 5% of the world’s population, it houses nearly a quarter of the world’s prison population. This often discussed metric begins to make sense when examining the major cities like Los Angeles, New York and others, where things like poverty and mental illness are often considered “crimes.” Host Robert Scheer digs into this phenomenon in Los Angeles on this week’s episode of Scheer Intelligence with Melissa Camacho, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.
“First of all, it has to do with the criminalization of poverty, the criminalization of mental illness. What are we talking about? These are people who are innocent at this moment and they have not had any day in court,” Scheer expressed. Together, Scheer and Camacho discussed the recent small victories in L.A. county, where subhuman conditions set for detainees have gradually improved, including new limits on how long detainees can be held at inmate reception centers and how long they can be chained to chairs and benches. Camacho explained that the fight for the improvement of these conditions has been ongoing with the ACLU for over 50 years.
Before this recent victory, detainees would be subject to environments people often associate with third world countries. “[Detainees] were getting stuck in the [inmate reception center] for days at a time, and those who were the sickest were stuck on the front bench, chained to the front bench for literally 24, 48, 72 [hours]. I talked to somebody who had been on the front bench for 99 hours,” Camacho said.
Support our Independent Journalism — Donate Today!
This transcript was produced by an automated transcription service. Please refer to the audio interview to ensure accuracy.
Robert Scheer Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guest and in this case, Melissa Camacho. Is that pronounced correctly?
Melissa Camacho It is, yes.
Scheer Who is the senior staff attorney at the Los Angeles County ACLU. Well, Southern California ACLU. I should know that, it’s a legendary chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, once run by the great Ramona Ripston, who did so much but I’m here to talk about a report, a judicial decision. I notice it’s temporary, but the way the Los Angeles Times described it in the story last Friday was L.A. County and ACLU, which what they put in quote marks extraordinary agreement to address jail conditions. We don’t address jail conditions. So I read the story and I thought, wait a minute, this is Los Angeles, this is California. This is the deep blue state. This is where people brag about having been in the civil rights movement and just going by what the L.A. County’s report said, you know, for example, as part of the proposed settlement, this is to control the sheriff’s department, which administers the county jail and quoting from the L.A. Times as part of the proposed settlement, which still requires court approval, the county agreed to limits on how long detainees can be held at the inmate Reception Center in downtown, L.A., as well as how long inmates can be handcuffed, were tethered to chairs and benches there. And then what was the great agreement? They said you can only be detained to an object for 4 hours.
Scheer How long can you be held in the jail in this latest agreement? You can be held for, what, 24 hours or something? What was it.
Scheer And the conditions, the description is just startling. What I want to know, this is a lawsuit that began a half century ago. Right? In Los Angeles County. I mean, I know most city supervisors. I’ve been around a long time. I worked at the L.A. Times for almost 30 years. I knew these supervisors. They all seemed to be great liberals, most of them. I think there would generally be one who was a kind of a cranky Republican on the board of supervisors, but they all seemed very enlightened. I voted, I guess, for all of them. And how have they gotten along for a half century with conditions, maybe you can describe those conditions, but in the L.A. Times story, you’re absolutely horrendous. You know, your statement accused the county of flouting even court orders by chaining inmates to benches and gurneys for hours at a time, locking people in cells covered with trash and feces and leaving them to sleep on crowded intake center floors with nothing but plastic bags to keep warm. Tell us what is going on. This is not Mississippi back in the sixties or something, right?
Camacho Right. This is right in our backyard today.
Scheer You go to those jails, you know. So tell me, what is what is this all about? And why does the community of Southern California largely not even know about this? And why did it take a half century to address?
Camacho Yes. So the lawsuit that you referenced was first filed in the ACLU two years before I was born, back in 1975. Interestingly enough, it was filed against the board of supervisors and the sheriff’s department as the two entities who have the power and authority over the L.A. County jails. At that time, Kenneth Hahn was one of the supervisors. So we are on our second generation of Hahn’s now as defendants in this very long lasting case. Now…
Scheer Take us through a half century before you were born. I mean, we’re not talking about ending slavery or ending segregation. I mean, a lot of these people have mental health problems. I mean, one of your victories is you can you know, you have to tend to mental health people. There’s something very positive in that. There’s supposed to be a swing to not necessarily locking everybody up. For people who don’t know L.A., we have the most horrendous homeless problem in the world. And when I say homeless, a problem that is horrendous. I don’t mean horrendous. That is an inconvenience to people who are going to offices and shopping. Certainly it is that, but that’s not the profound inhumanity of it. We have people living in miles and miles, I know I, I drive from my home downtown to USC and back at night, and I sometimes take the streets that are less crowded. My goodness, you have these hordes of humanity there. And basically, correct me if I’m wrong, what your thing addresses is that incarceration has been the main form of mental health. These people very often cannot stand trial, don’t know what they’re doing and so forth, and yet they’re going to be locked up and obviously their mental condition is going to be made all the worse.
Camacho Right. And not only that, but there has literally been no place to put them. So the inmate reception center is the subject of the most recent settlement that you referenced, and that’s the intake center for the six jails in L.A. County that are referred to as the men’s facility. So there is one more facility that is for designated for women in Lynwood and that has its own intake center. So this particular inmate reception center is just for the six facilities where people who are going to be housed and male designated facilities go through. So you have to get processed through and you’re supposed to get processed quickly within 24 hours. And some of that is back to that 1975 case. One of the big wins from that case was requiring the county and the sheriff’s department to give everybody a mattress when they came in to the jail and have to spend the night. So that’s why you have to move through the IRC within 24 hours, because there’s no beds in the IRC. It’s purely a processing center. You’re there to see medical, to see what your medical needs are. You’re there to see mental health decision.
Scheer What does IRC stand for?
Camacho The inmate reception center. So you’re there to see medical, you’re there to see mental health. You have to wait until housing classification figures out where you’re going to be placed. And the problem that you mentioned is that in L.A. County, the jails have become this de facto place of putting people with mental illness who have no place to go. The problem is there’s also no place to put them in the jail. There was literally no space in the places designated as either high observation housing for people with very significant mental illness or medium observation, housing for people with significant mental illness who require a higher level of observation. So people were coming into the IRC, but there was no place, no especially no mental health housing for them to go. So they were getting stuck in the IRC for days at a time, and those who were the sickest were stuck on the front bench, chained to the front bench for literally 24, 48, 72. I talked to somebody who had been on the front bench for 99 hours.
Scheer Okay, let’s put people what we’re talking about. Sure. We’re talking about being chained to a bench. Maybe you’re talking to yourself. Maybe you screamed at someone, maybe you stole something. Whatever you did in the case of profoundly mentally disturbed people, they didn’t even know why they’re there or what have you, and they’re going to be chained. I want people listening to this to understand. We’re talking, here, I’ve got a desk. I’m chained to this desk for 24 hours.
Camacho They’re basically these, they’re chairs that are hard plastic chairs that have kind of waist chains and handcuffs attached to the chairs. So the person is handcuffed and then chained with the on the waist chain, which is attached to the chair. It’s loosely chained. So often when I would go, I would see people who are still chained to the chair but choosing to lie down on the floor because at least there’s a little bit more space to try and get some sleep. But I also very frequently saw people laying in puddles of their own urine. We would get reports of people basically relieving themselves also with feces on the ground. I witnessed one person stand up and try and pee into an orange juice carton because when you’re on the front bench, you have no freedom of movement to go out to the bathroom when you need to use the bathroom.
Scheer And what if you say to the guard, I need the bathroom?
Camacho Apparently they weren’t being taken out to use the bathroom every time they needed to go. And then some people are also detoxing in a difficult enough space that possibly it wasn’t possible to even ask in time.
Scheer Okay, so let me you know, I really don’t actually know how to comprehend this tonight. I’ll probably go to the Mercado la Paloma and more. This community center near the Department of Motor Vehicles. There’ll be a lot of sheriffs officers, police officers and so forth. They’ll be aiding your seem like nice people. We have a racially changed and gender changed department of law enforcement. We have, I think even a majority. Do we have now of Latino or Hispanic people? I don’t know, or nonwhite. You know, those battles have actually been won. We have many more women and stuff, just men and so forth. All sorts of court thing. And I’ll be breaking bread with these people. And I don’t think they kept human beings who, by the way, may be totally innocent of anything not that allowed or should be allowed to treat any human being this way. But these are people who have been picked up and they could be innocent. They were just screaming on a street corner or something. And this homeless nightmare that we have there and I saw the picture in the L.A. Times, they showed the sheriffs all standing around being indifferent to human beings on the ground, peeing on themselves and screaming and everything. So what do we make of this? You are a human being, a lawyer by training, you go in there. Do you ever just say to these deputies, Why are you standing by? Why can’t you fix this?
Camacho Both to the deputies and to the staff in charge. Last summer, when this most when the problem raised itself again more recently, one of my frustrations was that I didn’t feel that sheriff’s department staff or the board of Supervisors were treating it as an emergency situation. In June, somebody died. An elderly man came into the IRC and did not have a medical evaluation before he died at the IRC. When it’s that overcrowded and that packed, things go wrong very fast. And it was sad, frustrating that we had to go back to court to ask the court to get involved before we saw real movement from the board of supervisors and why I sort of point the finger at the Board of Supervisors is that the root of the problem in the IRC, as I mentioned earlier, is the lack of housing, and that’s with very, very full jails. Our L.A. County jails are authorized to hold around 12,400 people, but they consistently operate above that level, 14,000, 15,000. Before COVID, it was up to 17,000. And you just cannot process that many people through the IRC. And so our pressure was on the board of supervisors and say, you have this overcrowding problem. It’s largely caused by putting people with significant mental illness in jail pretrial, rather than creating a robust community system where people can actually have their symptoms treated pretrial so that they can break the cycle of people going into jail for doing things like vandalism, felony vandalism, trespassing, different things people are getting picked up for, they’re largely the root is mental illness and not some inherent criminality.
Scheer And the fact of the matter goes to a basic issue of human rights. If they are mentally ill, to the point where they don’t comprehend where they are or how to defend themselves or what’s going on, come on. This is the barbarism that used to in the old days be exposed in movies, and most often we try to attribute it to other cultures. And I want to get back to these supervisors. You know, I know Hahn’s father, I guess a bit. There’s a nice park named after him, a lot of buildings named after him. And I guess his son will have the same. And as I say to you know, I’ve interviewed a lot of these people over the years. I was at the L.A. Times, you know, 29 years, and I’m reading this story. I don’t know why this story got to me in a way very few have. That this has been going on for 50 years. First of all, it has to do with the criminalization of poverty, the criminalization of mental illness. What are we talking about? These are people who are innocent at this moment. Right. And they have not had any day in court or on this occasion at least. And yet. How would I, if I were a supervisor, just go out and have dinner that night or go home and have dinner having witnessed this. Now, do the supervisors ever actually witness it? Because the sheriff’s department for people who don’t come from L.A. might not know. It’s a sort of a power unto itself. We have an elected sheriff. We’ve had sheriffs accused of criminality, of racism and everything else. But, even the county said in a release Friday, this is a county these are basically progressive Democrats in a self-defined and they released Friday’s The L.A. Times. The county highlighted progress officials have already made, saying they have announced bonuses for jail health care workers, added a compliance sergeant position and the inmate reception center and retrained staff on legal requirements and wait times. That sounds like a lot of garbage to me. I mean, what are we talking about? This is a problem in one form or another that the courts have been addressing, one that the ACLU has been raising by a half a century. So how do you keep, you seemed to have a great sense of calm. And what do you see as you were in the jail just today, right?
Camacho I was and I was in the IRC yesterday. I have a little bit of calm because it is night and day different yesterday than it was last summer. And so far, some of the changes they put in place are really working. But I also want to highlight their population is down. They’ve actually started moving people, the state prison moving people who need treatment to state hospitals. And I hope that when they’re reporting on the settlement comes out, they’ll be showing that they’re rolling out more community beds to the Office of Diversion and Reentry, and that that’s why we’re seeing the numbers starting to come down. I mentioned before our BSCC rating is 12,400. We’re down to 12,800. So spitting distance, which is the first time in a long time.
Scheer What is that rating referred to?
Camacho It’s called the Board of State and Community Corrections is the government entity in California that rates the capacity levels of the jails all over, up and down every county in California. And so in L.A. County, our jails are rated to be able to hold 12,400. And like I said, we’re just we’re about 400 over. And that’s why we’re seeing a lot of the changes.
Scheer Okay. And I do want to applaud, first of all, without people like you, without the ACLU, we wouldn’t be making this progress. I don’t know why I’m giggling. I just find it so absurd. And then I remind myself we’re talking about a human being chained to a chair, like for hours and hours and hours. I read that story and I said, Wait a minute, they can be in that chair for days?
Scheer I mean, how do you stay, if you weren’t crazy to begin with, you go nuts, then. I mean, you know what? What are we talking about? But I do want to applaud that progress can be made. And I want to connect this to the larger issue of homelessness and so forth. Because in Los Angeles now, and certainly up in Northern California, San Francisco and so forth, this is even from a strict economics prosperity notion recognized now as destructive of civic life, of community life. I mean, it’s just crazy, you know. Now, the Skid Row in Los Angeles last night, I notice it went past Rampart. Yeah. When I mean, I was driving around in preparation for this talk, but I also happened to be in the community and I thought, oh, my goodness, any illusion that this is somehow getting better and the only serious way it’s being treated. In fact, even in your proposal, it would only be through the judicial system that people end up getting housing right. That, you know, often these people are become socially irritating or disruptive or a nuisance or whatever, because they don’t have any normalcy of life. We know we have a problem where it’s almost impossible to rent a place to live in was any kind of reasonable rental and so forth. And we have, let’s be clear about this, in blue state California has by far the most severe homeless problem. And whether you like it or not, it’s a problem for everybody. Right. Right. But focusing as you do on the people, they have just been criminalized. Right. Reading this whole report that you people prepared and so forth. The real issue here and your solution, unfortunately, it’s a good one, but it’s very limited is to create some what is it, 500. I have the figures here. 500 non carceral. I guess that means none jail beds, for people found incompetent to stand trial. This is a city of what, 12, I mean, is county 1 million people And we are now going to, they’ve agreed, the county, that they will create more than let’s give the more than 500 non carceral beds for people found incompetent to stand trial. Now, every major religion, every major philosophical construction would tell you this is immoral, that if somebody is incompetent and doesn’t know where they are, they don’t know what they’re doing, to treat them as a prisoner. And to only talk about punishment is first of all, we’re going to make the problem much worse. We have a vast literature on that. And we also know by any decent standard, it’s a immoral. Yet, and I’m not forcing you because you represent the solution rather than the problem. You know, I looked at that headline and it said extraordinary agreement. That’s the word…
Camacho And I think why the word extraordinary is used. And part of it is those 500 beds is that, you know, this is the first time for sure in our lawsuit and even really around the country where we’ve gotten a county to agree to non-jail solutions to fix a jail problem. So the 500 beds are part of 1900 beds that the county has committed to rolling out on line that are not beds in the jail, but rather beds where people in the community can receive the support, housing, mental health services while they’re pretrial instead of being in jail. And part of why we were able to do that in this case goes back about eight years or so when the board was considering what to do with this growing population of people with mental illness that were coming into the jails. They actually originally proposed building a new mental health jail, and community leaders from throughout L.A. County joined together to convince the board, not only should they not build a jail because jails is never an answer for people with mental illness. But they should also close one of the worst offending facility in our county, men’s central jail. So the movement there, which is largely led by a coalition called Justice L.A., was successful in getting the board to commit to not building that jail and to close men’s central jail. And as part of that effort, then the board asked for various studies. Well, how can we how can we accomplish this? And Rand came back a couple of years ago with a report given straight to the board of supervisors saying that roughly 60% of people who are currently in the jails could be safely treated outside of the jail walls.
Scheer What was the percentage?
Camacho Yes. So nearly two thirds. 60% of people with mental illness could be safely treated outside of the jails and community and again, with hope of actually getting.
Scheer And unquestionably, unquestionably they are going to be made worse in the jail.
Scheer I mean, it’s all, you know, paranoia and everything is in hand. Yes. I want to get to the I actually once interviewed Ronald Reagan about all this when he was, before he was governor and then when he was governor. And I must say, even then, I mean, even Ronald Reagan, whatever you think about him, he thought by, you know, closing down not just some, but something, by the way, the ACLU favorite, also the big mental hospitals, the big asylums and so forth, was a humane thing to do. We had drugs that could now help people that they would get. We could have smaller community facilities. It would be a budget saver. I forget it was the Lanterman-Petris Act and so forth. That failed miserably somewhat because people didn’t participate. You know, if they’re having mental problems, they might not show up. But also communities didn’t wanted and NIMBYism and so forth. And however it happened, we are now visited with a civilization subverting let’s be clear about that. You can not live a rational life in mile after mile of Los Angeles, despite the beauty of the city, the wonder of the climate. You will be scared and and the people that scaring you are also scared. Let’s not dehumanize them. But we have the most I mean, wherever you if you went in my image of Calcutta before I visited Calcutta, when I finally visited Calcutta, it wasn’t that bad, you know? You know, and I’m thinking about it. All these people for the last 50 more years have been trying to claiming to deal with this problem. And then you. Here we are. You weren’t even born at that time. To wrap this up. Really, I don’t want to have just another conversation. People listen to it. Yeah, that’s life. You know, we can’t feel that way about global warming. We just now had the warmest week we ever had or something. The warmest month. I don’t know, just saw the headline. But you can’t have life. Here is San Francisco, which I did report on a bit there. I actually did some work for the Examiner there many years ago. You know, you have the most valuable real estate in the country with the highest tech. Most advanced economy and it’s collapsing because no one can use the downtown, the whole area. Well, that’s what’s happening in Los Angeles or am I exaggerating?
Camacho No. And I think what people can do, what we can do in L.A. County, is put pressure on the board of supervisors and say that, you know, sure, the 1900 beds in this ACLU settlement is a good start, but it’s not enough. I mentioned that RAND report. On the heels of that RAND report, a group of county entities, including community organizations, the sheriff’s department, the DEA, the Department of Public Health, all came together and created a plan to close men’s central jail by rolling out eventually 10,000 community beds. But starting with 2500. The Board of Supervisors received that report in March of 2021 and then failed to implement it. We’re still begging for those beds to come online and getting a court order to get them to do 1900. But the county has to keep funding the Office of Diversion reentry funding beds through the Department of Mental Health to provide these services. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll continue to see horrific human rights abuses in the jail and continued problems on the street with people who have no place to live and no place to receive the treatment that they need. So that’s really what one of the average L.A. County person can do is contact their supervisor and ask, Why haven’t these plans been followed? When are you going to roll out these beds and community services for people who need mental health treatment pretrial?
Scheer Let me ask you a question, because right now it’s a federal problem because the state county’s not going to do the right thing. So you’ve taken your case to the federal court, right?
Camacho Right. But there’s, you know, the 1900 beds, it’s a great start. But, you know, I think political pressure is going to be what gets the county the rest of the way.
Scheer But, you know, also we’re here in public radio KCRW enlightened Station in Santa Monica, which has had has its own homeless problem and others can hear this. But I just want to grasp what we’re really talking about here because, you know, our federal representatives, they pass big federal budgets, addressing a lot of problems. War and peace, no munitions, infrastructure, so forth and so on. Enormous budgets have been passed. And here, when we come to this situation to find the money to house what? For instance, the figure here, you have 500 for beds, for people found in central as 1700 people with mental illness. You say we really need how many right now would we need?
Camacho I think the report said eventually 10,000; 2500 in the first two years, and then continuing to roll out after that.
Scheer Right now, how come that just can’t compare to, say, military spending or, you know, I mean, as a joke. And yet it could save. It could save let’s just be crass capitalists. It could save your city. Right. You know, I mean, you’ve built all these buildings and highways and everything else and you can’t use the city, you know. And so so what I’m trying to get from you is really, why is there resistance? What do the congressional representatives from this community, what do they think when they I mean, there are some of them, head committee. Nancy Pelosi for instance, she lives in San Francisco. She’s aware of what a nightmare this is. She could look at the oh, after all, the House of Representatives controls the budget. You know, you’ve got other folks down here who have a lot of influence. Our current mayor was a congresswoman not putting her down or anything. Adam Schiff, who running for the Senate, been in the House of Representatives a long time. Why? Why is it so difficult to get the money to build housing or somehow and we got to remind people, if these people are not competent to stand trial or they’re people with mental illness, even if they like their neighbor, even if you have the beds, you got to clear up this problem. How do they get their case heard? Okay. But we’re really talking about a much larger group that because of the what you exposed here, that they’re waiting in jail and tied to their chair, they are still technically, technically, legally, morally innocent.
Scheer That’s what we have. I well, I can’t really you should I say, wait a minute, you know, and yet we can’t find the money. And two things. One, to have a better flow of prisoners and manage their cases. And secondly, have a non jail alternative for the people who need it so they don’t even get to be heard whether they are coherent or not. Instead of being put through this process of making them more incoherent, I’ve got to remind people. And then secondly, you don’t even have the beds to put them somewhere else once you’ve decided your case and heard them. Right.
Camacho Right, right.
Scheer So why is your are you driven nuts by this? You seem so quiet. Everyone is babbling here. Well, you know, really, I would like to know. I don’t know you personally. I admire what you’ve done here. And I babbled on too long for just another 5 minutes. If you have the time and tell me, you know, how did you get into this? How long have you been doing this? And what have you learned?
Camacho Right. I’ve been doing jail conditions, work with the ACLU for about two and a half years. Prior to that, I was a criminal defense attorney. All of my clients had their cases on appeal and they were indigent. They couldn’t afford their own counsel. So I was appointed to. Represent them on their appeals in the California Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court. So I would often hear from those clients that L.A. County jail was the worst place. They never been, you know, that they might have stayed in other states or been in prisons in California, up and down California. But L.A. County was the absolute worst if they had to go for resentencing, didn’t want to go back to L.A. County, if they could avoid it, it was the worst. And so I was interested in joining ACLU to see if there was some work I could do with that. And because of ACLU’s commitment to work not just in the courts, but also with community partners and people who are most directly impacted for political change. Because I think, as we’ve seen in the settlement, some really great things can happen in the courts. But the rest of the way needs to. We only get the whole way there by exercising our political will and convincing the people who are in charge of the purse strings to spend it where it needs to be spent.
Scheer So. But, you know, a lot of people come out of law school and they go make big bucks for companies. Maybe they do a little pro bono work and so forth. But what led you to I mean, this is grueling work. I mean, what are you going to get demoralized and sell out there?
Camacho I certainly hope not. We do fight for good working conditions in our in our affiliate to, you know, we want all of us to be able to do good work for the long haul. We unionized recently.
Scheer So you really that’s a good sign. Yeah, but just for you know, I teach it right up the street at the University of Southern California. And, you know, at the end of the day, I’m in the Annenberg School. You know, a lot of the journalism jobs have dried up. You know, a lot of us smarter or should say smarter people who test better. I don’t necessarily that to fight with intelligence. But, you know, seriously, what are they going to do? You know, law that law is a big catch all and and yeah, so we train more and more lawyers but we are in a more and more just society and a lot of the lawyers I’m not putting down our law school. I haven’t done an investigation. I don’t know the data but know if you take Harvard Law School, most of those people go off and work for Wall Street or they work for big salaries or they write. They don’t. They don’t you know, how do we get more people to go work for the ACLU or CARE or public counsel? I mean, there are other good groups around, right?
Camacho I think loan forgiveness as we can we can get a commitment to loan forgiveness. I think that’s that’s a that’s a big that’s a big, big deal to be able to to get people to be able to do this type of work for the long haul.
Scheer And what about affirmative action, which was just struck down, right?
Camacho Yeah. I mean, I went to UCLA law, so under 209, there was already no officially affirmative action at UCLA. And I think it was poorer for it. You know, I had a good experience, but we had very, very few Latino people, very, very few black people. And so I think that, you know, it would have been different. And and it impacts our legal system differently if we have better pipelines. So, you know, those of us in the legal profession are still committed to widening those pipelines. But, you know, we’ve we’ve seen the damage it’s done in California. I’m sad for the damage that that’ll do across the country now as well.
Scheer And one final dart about the state of media. No, because, you know, at least when the L.A. I noticed one of the individuals writing this report, kerry blanc, india. I did a podcast with her and she had actually served prison time and, you know, was a brilliant writer and, you know, so one of the things is that we have pressure now within the media to be more representative and hire people of different backgrounds. But the jobs aren’t through the L.A. Times. You know, if this story, I think, had been in the old L.A. Times that the center of its power. Well, on the other hand, it was in 90. So it is still did change, but at least we had an idea of accountability of local media. Now, the L.A. Times, it’s not their fault, but they’re a shadow of the former self. How do you get change of the public? I mean, they show people in L.A., Let’s be fair to LA’s population. The public voted to do more for the homeless. The public has generally not always, but generally voted to show concern in L.A. City, L.A. County, you know, they’re not getting it and then they get angry. Chris Guy, look, look at all these people sleeping on the street and look at all these problems and so forth. And one of the problems is we don’t have media coverage, Right?
Camacho And I think, you know, it does make a difference to have people in media who have been impacted by the carceral system because they have a more accurate view of what it’s really like inside. You know, as you were saying earlier in this in this conversation, it’s shocking, you know, when you hear what people’s experiences are. And I think for most of us in L.A. County, we don’t want to believe that it’s bad. So having people who can elevate the voices of people who are experiencing being without a home, experiencing going through jails and have being only traumatized and made worse, it really helps educate the rest of us as to of what needs, what needs to be done. And as far as, you know, voting, we had a really significant event election in November and kicked out the previous sheriff. And we’ve brought in a new sheriff. Sheriff Luna also kept a liberal supervisor in Lindsey Horvath. And now in 2023, you need to say, all right, follow through on your promises. The board said they were going to close men’s central jail. When and how are you going to do that? They need to set a deadline. They have not. Sheriff Luna has said he wants to comply with all of these various lawsuits, including one the Department of Justice has for treatment of people with mental illness. We got to hold their feet to the fire and make them be good on their promises.
Scheer It’s a good point on which and I just want to finally and yes, it is headline. The L.A. Times was celebratory. L.A. County and ACLU, their organization, reach extraordinary agreement to address jail conditions. I will say it is progress and, you know, be thankful for that. But here again, quoting The L.A. Times, under the agreement announced Friday, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, which operates the county jails, is barred from holding an inmate in the reception center for longer than 24 hours or handcuffing or tethering an inmate to an object for more than 4 hours. Now, you know, I’ve been around the world and I’ve actually spent a little time in a few jails. And I must say that for that to be a victory, you know, again, innocent until proven guilty, these are people have not been convicted of anything. Tethering an inmate to an object for more than 4 hours or managing tether yourself for 4 hours and see if you don’t go nuts. Right. And that they should not be able to be processed in less than 24 hours instead of, you know, lying around the floor and urinating on yourself or even get to the bathroom. That’s a victory. I want to my hat’s off to you for the victory. My like. I wish people would focus on this more. And thanks anyway for taking the time.
Camacho Yeah. And not to end on a low note, but, you know, it’s not like this fixed all of the conditions in the jails. You know, I believe we’ve had at least 25 people die in the jails this year. So the fight is far from over. We need to get thousands more people out of the jail and close the worst offending jail in Central. And that’s what I really hope ACLU will get to be a part of that fight for a long time to come.
Scheer Well, thank you for doing this. And I also want to thank I mean, were you were the main counsel that pushed this, Right?
Camacho I was one of a group. We also co counseled with the ACLU National Prison Project. So there were a couple of us and the ACLU, Southern California people from the National.
Scheer There are a lot of people. And the point you just made about who’s in the jail, once you get in and what happens there And do we have any model for rehabilitating? I mean, all of these issues, this guy. But there are I don’t want to you know, I don’t want to ignore the work that people like you do. There are a lot of people working not just my case, doing an interview for 40 minutes, but but, you know, really, hopefully maybe you’ll spend 20, 30 years on this doing this. And, you know, the ACLU has been doing that. So even though this has been going on for a long time, it’s not that people haven’t been fighting over it. I also want to thank Laura Kondourajian and Christopher Ho at KCRW which is a the NPR station that does do a lot of good work on this stuff. I want to thank Joshua Scheer, our chief editor, for putting this all together and getting me to know about this case, because I didn’t know that there had been this victory until he said, look, you got to interview this lawyer. He did that, and we arranged that. So I think I read I get the L.A. Times. I don’t know, somehow I missed the story. Diego Ramos, who writes the introduction, Max Jones, who does the video. I want to thank the J.K.W. Foundation in memory of a very strong independent writer, Jean Stein, for giving us some funding to do these shows. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.
Camacho Thank you.