We’ve all heard the stories about how when people wind up in jail, they somehow “find Jesus” while behind bars, but when they finally get released, they manage to leave their savior behind without even a second thought.
While this may hold some truth when it comes to the concept of religion, one of the many things I learned as a captain in the LA County jail system was how desperate incarcerated people were for legitimate employment training and opportunities. They were desperate while on the streets, desperate while awaiting trial, and even more so once they were convicted of crimes that sent them to the county jail for up to one year.
To his credit, former LA Sheriff Leroy Baca, for all his issues, had the foresight to create a unit within LASD Custody Division known as Education Based Incarceration, or EBI. Having been the sheriff’s choice to head up this newly created unit, I have an insider’s view of the unit’s successes and failures.
I have to admit that I had been less than thrilled to have been selected for this position, as I had always considered myself to be a hard-charging street cop. With my promotion to captain, I had hoped to be assigned to a patrol division within the department, where I could take the reins of a patrol station. Serving at the pleasure of the department, however, I steeled myself for the new adventure and set out to create an inmate educational bureau that we could all be proud of.
For the next two years, my staff and I worked tirelessly to create programming for inmates who would have otherwise been languishing in the jail system with no opportunities to better themselves once they were released back onto the streets. We came up with some innovative educational/instructional and life skills programs that were making an impact on those lucky enough to qualify for the opportunity to participate.
As part of the curriculum, we had high school, along with some college level classes. Over and above the traditional school courses, we also had dog groomer training, data input, some woodworking and other classes that helped round out an individual’s experiences. After the two years, I still considered the unit to be in its infancy, with even greater opportunities to follow.
And then on January 7, 2014, the bottom fell out. That was the day that Lee Baca resigned from his position as Sheriff of LA County. While I had hoped and believed that the EBI Program would continue to grow, I soon found out that with Baca no longer at the helm, interest in expanding educational programs and certification opportunities for inmates waned. The unit was downgraded and placed under the auspices of others who simply did not care to move the program forward.
That was 2014. We are now in 2023. Sure, the department continues to have some semblance of programming in place, but nothing that I believe is necessary to actually have a positive, long-lasting effect on the lives of others. Since nothing substantive appears to be on the horizon as far as all of this goes, I have decided to go ahead and present my ideas in a public forum. Maybe someone will see this, and more importantly, maybe someone will see the value in an investment in the lives of people who wind up in our custody.
What I had planned for the future of the Education Based Incarceration Program was a sweeping, all encompassing education and certification facility, created with the sole purpose of providing real life training and skills to help people succeed once released from custody.
Mira Loma Detention Center is located in northern LA County, in the Lancaster Station jurisdiction. It has been closed and mothballed for a number of years now, and no meaningful plans have been made to use the facility. In my estimation, this is a perfect location for a secure location where inmates can be housed while they participate in programming that would include careers in electrical, plumbing, AC/HVAC, landscaping, auto body and paint, cable installation, pet grooming, sheet metal, and a myriad of other careers that can lead to a sustainable and legal lifestyle.
This would require the incarcerated person to sign an agreement to participate in the program and to serve their sentence as prescribed by the presiding judge. This would require additional buy-in from the District Attorney, Public Defender, and others to ensure that those chosen for the programming stay long enough to complete the certification/licensing process. As an example, someone sentenced to a six-month sentence will need to agree to serving their sentence in custody and not being released on percentage time or another mechanism that would release them before their training has been completed.
Any inmate who decided they want to drop the program or who misbehaves while in the program will be removed from the facility, but will be required to serve their full, previously agreed upon sentence (incentive to be successful).
I am aware that there are trade schools within LA County who would be interested in contracting with the Department to make this a reality. Many of these schools also attempt to find job placement opportunities for their graduates. This is an absolute win-win, for the county, for the trade school, and most importantly, for the graduating inmates.
Will it cost some money? Sure it will. Millions. But how much money is now being dumped into the simple warehousing of incarcerated individuals on an annual basis in LA County? This is where the Board of Supervisors would need to evaluate their own priorities and come up with the requisite funding to make this a reality.
As it is configured now, Mira Loma can house approximately 1200 individuals. Imagine how many lives can be improved by this facility annually. Families reunited. Kids getting to see their parents. Individual self-worth increased. A reduction in recidivism.
Like I said in the beginning, I have always seen myself as being a hard-charging street cop. While I’m no longer patrolling the streets of LA County, I am still a hard charger. I believe in second chances, and I also believe that we, as a society, should help those who are receptive to that help.
The time has long since passed where we can just sit around and let people rot away in jail. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do, and the LASD is missing a tremendous opportunity by not implementing this meaningful programming.