On March 30, ADPSR helped host and facilitate "Envisioning a Healthy FREE LA: Community Solutions Not Jail Expansion," a free community workshop in Los Angeles. The event was an opportunity for members of the communities most impacted by L.A.'s troubled (to say the least) justice system to share their point of view. In particular, it was intended to give voice to alternatives to the current proposal for over $1 Billion of new jail construction proposed by the L.A. County Sheriff. The workshop was facilitated by ADPSR, led by Raphael Sperry (current ADPSR President), and LA-based architects Rebecca Seward, Joe Day and Claude Eshaghian.
The event began with a teach-in where a variety of speakers from community-based organizations explained the jail construction plan and the broader context of criminal justice "Realignment," a recent California state policy that has put more people charged with low-level offenses at the county level, in order to reduce the state prison population to a constitutionally acceptable level (which has not entierly worked). Counties were given flexibility to address how to respond to keeping the people locally: either with probation, enhanced services (like drug treatment), electronic monitoring, or jail. Jail expansion of course is the harshest and most expensive alternative. Participants followed the teach-in with a brainstorming session on what they think could more effectively reduce crime and meet community needs if the county was going to spend $1 Billion on construction:
At "MCJ" -- the current site of Men's Central Jail, where a $900 Million rebuild is proposed -- people thought that job training, higher education could be useful. This site is adjacent to downtown LA, walking distance to Union Station, Chinatown, and other central neighborhoods. Yet these densely populated neighborhoods -- the densest in Southern California -- lack a community center or enough open space to meet community needs. One comment, perhaps ironic, noted that the existing boxy building has enough space to function as a movie multiplex (if interior walls are removed). It's not far from Hollywood, at least in miles.
At the site of the Sheriff's proposed "Women's Village" -- which will hold more than 1,100 women in detention -- participants were in mind for transitional housing and related to the remote, open space of the site with ideas for green jobs development in the organic farming and/or solar sectors. In fact, while the site is remote from most of L.A. County, it is surrounded by four other jails already, consuming the last piece of flat land among them.
This was an afternoon of inspiration and innovation. Everyone present came to the conclusion that we can do better than building more cages for people. The models produced will be part of an ongoing conversation within the community and with the LA Board of Supervisors, Sheriff's department, and the broader public. The visual impact and emotional charge they carry should help advance a point of view that needs to be heard.