MEASURE R FOCUSES ON ALTERNATIVES TO JAIL AND SHERIFF OVERSIGHT
March 5, 2020
The recent election on March 3 included multiple criminal law issues on the ballot. While the races for district attorney and numerous judge positions will have an impact on our courts, another issue may dramatically change the oversight of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and how criminal defendants are treated by the courts and jails.
Measure R is a ballot initiative focused on changes in how the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission operates. The first change would be to grant subpoena power to the commission. The second change would be to require the commission to build a comprehensive plan to find alternatives to incarceration for criminal defendants, with a focus on those with mental health issues.
Subpoena power provides the commission with a way to require the production of material from the LASD. Currently, the commission is forced to go through the inspector general to obtain materials. Supporters of the measure argue that this will provide more power to the commission and cut down on bureaucracy. They also argue that a more direct path will reduce attempts to cover up any issues within the department. The current sheriff of Los Angeles county, Alex Villanueva, has opposed the measure and has argued that any oversight should be a collaborative effort with the department and that Measure R will result in baseless lawsuits and that the supporters of the measure are focused primarily on bashing the department by any means necessary.
The portion of the measure addressing mental health issues in criminal cases is a continuation of criminal justice reforms over the past several years in Los Angeles. Supporters argue that jails are not equipped to deal with mental health issues and that it would be cheaper to diagnose and treat these individuals rather than incarcerate them repeatedly. As both a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, I have personally seen how ill equipped the criminal courts have been to deal with mental health issues. One area that all sides should agree on is that it is both inappropriate and unfair to expect jails to act as de facto mental institutions.
Los Angeles County voters have overwhelmingly backed Measure R. The latest vote totals show that the measure is currently backed over 70% of votes counted. Hopefully, the measure will result in actual changes in how criminal cases are handled in Los Angeles. Criminal defendants should have the ability to both address improper conduct by law enforcement and also to be offered alternatives to being sent to jail when treatment and rehabilitation would better serve the individual and the community.