Los Angeles County supervisors approved a $43.4-billion budget Monday, saying they hoped it will fix the failing jails and juvenile halls while acknowledging the board’s failures to successfully oversee the departments in the past.
The budget for the fiscal year beginning Saturday is bigger than many state budgets and will fund a workforce of more than 114,000. Roughly $5 billion of the total will flow into the county’s two most troubled agencies — $4 billion for the Sheriff’s Department and $1 billion for the Probation Department.
The budget approval followed hours of testimony, much of it urging funding cuts to the Sheriff’s Department, which is on track to have one of the deadliest years in its jails in recent history. The Probation Department has also had a perilous year with a surging number of overdoses and violent incidents.
Monday’s meeting was punctuated by moments of silence for two young men who died in the last few months in county custody: Bryan Diaz, 18, who fatally overdosed at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, and Kamren Lee Nettles, 19, who died while at Men’s Central Jail.
The supervisors acknowledged they were failing those in county custody, but stressed they were doing the best they could to improve conditions with limited funds. Budget officials noted housing sales were down, one of the core sources of the county’s most flexible dollars.
“We are not providing quality care in our jails for those individuals that are of greatest need,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger, calling it “unconscionable.”
“It is substandard,” said Hilda Solis. “It is not acceptable.”
Monday’s meeting was the board’s final chance to amend the budget, which was first unveiled in April. Fesia Davenport, the county’s chief executive officer, said three major changes approved by the board were intended to improve the conditions of the jails and juvenile halls.
The supervisors approved an additional $52.3 million to improve mental health services at jails; $29.9 million to safely move people with severe mental health conditions out of jails; and $117.8 million to renovate Los Padrinos, a soon-to-be-revived juvenile hall that will house most of the youths in counth custody.
To approve the budget, the supervisors need a series of votes on different portions of the plan. Supervisor Holly Mitchell cast the sole no vote on the budget changes recommended by Davenport’s office. Mitchell had put forward an amendment aimed at eradicating deputy gangs in the Sheriff’s Department, but it failed. The budget calls for the addition of three captains to be placed in stations with a history of deputy gangs and cliques.
“It feels a little hodgepodge,” Mitchell said of the new positions. “If we’re talking about a multigenerational culture shift, it’s going to take more than three captains in three precincts.”
Mitchell later cast a yes vote to adopt the completed budget, which passed 4 to 0. Supervisor Kathryn Barger left before the votes took place.
The new budget will go into effect as the county’s jails and juvenile halls are beset by crisis. The Times reported Saturday on dozens of graphic videos smuggled out by an inmate showing brutal beatings and inattentive deputies. Meanwhile, the conditions for the county’s younger detainees got so grim that a state oversight body recently shut down the two halls, forcing officials to rapidly resurrect Los Padrinos as a juvenile hall.
Davenport told the Board Monday that the funding to renovate Los Padrinos would be part of a “cultural reset” led by the new interim probation chief and that the renovations were occurring at “breakneck speed.” She said the $117 million was redirected from other projects already funded in the Probation Department.
Members of the public filled the board room Monday to urge the politicians to go back rethink the budget. The Service Employees International Union Local 721 wanted a retention bonus offered to more healthcare providers working in jails. Health advocates wanted more funds to treat sexually transmitted infections, noting troubling surges of syphilis. Most who showed up advocated for less money going to the Sheriff’s and Probation departments.
“This budget acknowledges that there are serious problems with sheriff violence and jail conditions,” said Ivette Alé-Ferlito, executive director of La Defensa. “But instead of investing in the care and freedom of the survivors, you’re throwing more money at the very department that are committing these atrocities. This is lipstick on a pig.”
As she spoke, advocates in the crowd held signs with tombstones on them — representing the 24 people who have died in county custody since the start of the year — about 1 per week.
Tennel Crook held a sign with a tombstone and “15.” The number stood for her son, Kamren Lee Nettles, who she said was the 15th person to die in the county’s jails this year.
“I don’t know what it’s going to take for you guys to close that jail,” she said, standing in front of the board wearing a shirt with her son’s face on it. “How many people actually have to die?”
She said it wasn’t yet clear from an autopsy how he died. The next person that went into her son’s cell in Men’s Central Jail after he died was given a blanket stained with her son’s blood, Crook said.
The supervisors have vowed for years to close Men’s Central Jail.
Khadijah Shabazz, who was at a rally outside the Hall of Administration protesting the Sheriff Department’s budget, said she also had loved ones affected by the jails crisis. Her nephew has been in Men’s Central Jail for about eight months, she said, and was not getting the mental health treatment he needed.
“The funds should be going toward helping mental health, closing this jail down,” Shabazz said. “Locking someone up in men’s Central Jail is not helping. If it was helping, if I can see some benefit in it, I would not be standing here today.”
Times staff writer Keri Blakinger contributed to this report.