By Ruth Campbell, Enlace Intern
On the morning of July 16th, when the L.A. County Board of Supervisors met to hear a proposal for a new women’s jail—being called a “women’s village”— members and allies of the LA No More Jails Coalition came out to protest and make their opposition to the plan heard. Vanir Construction Management, a contractor hired to assess the county’s jail needs, proposed 5 options detailing plans to keep more women of Los Angeles county locked up. As expected, the proposals were deeply flawed in the assumption that L.A. would continue to incarcerate at the current alarming rate, and in the assumption that jails are an appropriate method of providing mental healthcare and other services. Before the meeting, protestors gathered outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration building and called for an end to increasing prison space as a solution to systemic problems, and demanded a focus instead on providing access to quality housing, education, and healthcare in order to keep communities healthy and safe.
Once Vanir Construction’s presentation began, members of No More Jails, Enlace, and other allies stood silently with letters forming the words “NO MORE JAILS” written across their shirts in protest of the narrow-minded proposal that supposedly assessed the need for jails in Los Angeles. Other protestors in orange T-shirts turned their backs on the presenters and board members demonstration of their opposition. After the presentation was finished, protestors were allowed to be heard and spoke passionately about the need to combat mass incarceration with more creative solutions. Many had personal stories to tell: one woman told how she had been through all three of L.A.’s current prisons for women, none of which had helped her build a normal life within the community upon her release until she was able to enroll in a program outside of jail to help her recover and support her two children. Another pleaded emotionally for her criminalized community, accompanied by her young son who she asked board members to assure her would not end up like Trayvon Martin. Yet another woman identified herself as a survivor of sexual assault and called out the focus on ensuring those few offenders accused are locked in an environment that reinforces their criminality rather than focusing on education and programs to prevent the crime in the first place. “We are all potential victims,” reminded one protestor, and proceeded to call for policies that truly created healthy communities rather than policies that create fear by tearing minority and low-income communities apart through locking people away.
These speeches were interspersed by clapping and other shows of appreciation, which security guards attempted to silence. At their conclusion, protesters walked out to chants of “No more jails! Community solutions!” L.A. No More Jails, a project of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, is a partner of Enlace and will continue to fight this proposed women’s “village,” and all new plans to build more jails and feed mass incarceration. Take action and sign the petition demanding No More Jails. For more information on L.A. No More Jails and their fight against the women’s prison visit the CURB Website.