Archive for the ‘Los Angeles’ Category

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The Pitchess Detention Center in Los Angeles has brought in a 7 1/2 foot, what looks to be like a robot, but is in fact a machine that transmits a laser beam that creates a unbearable sensation. The center chooses not to call the object what it is, a laser, and instead refers to it as an “Assault Intervention Device.” In the video above a few officers test out the beam and, by facial reactions alone it appears to be a painful feeling that no one prefers to receive.

The “Assault Intervention Device” will be placed on the ceiling of a unit housing. It will act as a way for guards to keep control over the inmates, while at the same time remaining a safe distance away from prisoners who might try to retaliate.


Outside the Detention Center

A $74 million, five-story, 172,000-square-foot prison in Los Angeles remains completely vacant due to the lack of funds available. The Los Angeles Police Department is in a bit of an economic crisis with their budget and cannot seem to be able to employee the proper amount of guards to run the Metropolitan Detention Center.
What goes into a $74 million prison, you ask? The Los Angeles Times mentioned a few different technological advancements and architectural choices:

It’s wired with video cameras and has automated security doors and electronic fingerprinting stations. To better monitor inmates and cut down on overcrowding, the jail is divided into secure wings that are flooded with sunlight from skylights and kept cool by a centralized air conditioner. Sound-dampening panels even hang from the ceiling because studies show a quiet jail is a peaceful jail.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said that he never expected to see such a financial crisis. He was hoping tostart moving prisoners into this detention center as soon as possible but now with this budget freeze, the LAPD is forced to continue to fill there already crowded downtown jail.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is responsible for the country’s most occupied/populated county jail. The recidivism rates in California are the highest in the country with the ratio of two out of three prisoners returning to prison. He has personally decided to create a local movement of Education-Based incarceration in hopes to lower recidivism rates within the state. Intellectual growth and competence is the main focus of Baca’s Education-Based incarceration, mostly because a large portion of prisoners are high school drop outs and without an education they can never become better prepared for life outside of prison.

Baca joked that prisoners are the “perfect” students because of their perfect attendance. However, he is confident that all the prisoners that take education courses while in prison become “model” criminals. They are able to take their new-found education and challenge themselves to learn and become more academically knowledgeable. This, in turn, causes the inmates (who are students) to asses their own lives and become less violent and a better prisoner in hopes to (1) get a shorter sentence along with a quicker parole and (2) attain an actual career and stable lifestyle after leaving the prison.

The Education-Based incarceration is still in the beginning stages and must show that a stronger education program actually does lower recidivism rates before it can be adapted by more prison systems. Baca believes that one should “incarcerate a body but not a brain” most prisoners will reenter society again and they need to be prepared to live and prosper in the United States. The employment rates are extremely high and jobs are very competitive now; people are losing out on opportunities because most jobs want at least a high school educated employee if not a college educated one. Without education in the prison system, inmates can never become fully prepared to leave prison.


Most media coverage represents a story from different angles—the victim’s side of the story as well as the alleged offender; the behind-the-scenes view of the movie and the fan’s perspective; the president as seen from the public eye and the president’s family life presented from his own point of view. But there is one subject that does not get this double-sided media attention. The American prison system is consistently portrayed from an outsider’s point of view: the convicted go in, leaving the cameras at the door. Yet, some prisons are trying to remedy this flaw with prison newspapers, the only surefire way to bring the public news of the prison system from the inside to the outside.

A success story in prison newspapers was the Prison Legal News (PLN) of the McNeil Island Corrections Center in Pierce County, Washington. Up until the prison’s closing in April, 2011, it served all 50 states, as well as 23 countries, and boasted of a diverse subscriber base, including “Attorneys General, state-level Department of Corrections officials, wardens, attorneys, public defenders, appellate defenders, journalists, academics and paralegals”; one of the reasons being that it is not entirely inmate-run. The paper comes together through a collaboration of “volunteers, ex-cons, established journalists, and prison inmates.”

The paper represents legal issues on which each of these groups can voice an opinion. For the inmates, it is a welcome opportunity. The editor of PLN, Paul Wright, said “We tend to get a lot of support from other media because, for the most part, even elements of the corporate media still think a lot about the First Amendment and free speech.” For a system so successfully kept hidden, prison has the media starving for the slightest bit of attention.

Following suit is another successful attempt to bridge the gap between the human race and its outcasts: the San Quentin News of San Quentin State Prison. For California inmates, this paper has made a huge difference in not only serving their viewpoints to the public, but in being a positive reinforcement.

Harris, a 47-yr-old man serving 25 to life for attempted murder said of the paper, “Once we started printing the paper … you see this prison come to life in terms of cooperation, in terms of, hey, this is an opportunity to be able to tell the stories from your perspective and also allow the rest of the world to see what’s happening here.”

Another inmate, Tamboura, confirmed its popularity: “Other papers may be struggling for circulation. But not this one…When the paper’s handed out, “guys just run…They want the paper.”

As much as they are successes, prison newspapers are also met with a considerable amount of resistance. One obstacle is the nature of the life of an inmate. Unlike a proper business, prisons do not have the resources available to produce a newspaper.

 Paul Wright, the editor of Prison Legal News, underwent many difficulties as an inmate managing a newspaper.

“Though Wright still works on a typewriter (inmates are not allowed computers, E-Mail, or Internet access), he corresponds regularly with Fred Markham, the manager of PLN’s makeshift offices in Fremont, a Seattle neighborhood. Markham, a 63-year-old veteran of Washington and Texas prisons, oversees the subscriber database, circulation of the newspaper, and incoming phone calls, faxes and messages — essentially, handling any newspaper-related responsibilities that Wright can’t meet from behind bars.”

 In addition, some are still wary of letting the inmates have a voice, an attitude that has kept prisons the mysterious places that they are.

Lt. Rudy Luna, the San Quentin News program sponsor, said, “Some of the strongest criticism comes from correctional officers, who may be skeptical of the inmate reporters’ objectivity or just do not support providing this kind of outlet to convicted criminals.”

Yet, the pros far outweigh the cons.

“I think that a lot of prisoners realize that, unfortunately, this newspaper is our only voice.” said Wright,

With reach like that of PLN, it doesn’t matter who agrees or disagrees with the concept of prison news. The fact is that news is getting out—and it’s coming from the inmates. In California, San Quentin State Prison has made significant strides to promote this positive activity. The challenge now, is to pick up a copy of your local prisoner newspaper, and read.



As of March 7, 2011, Baltimore ranks 29 on a list of most dangerous cities in America. L.A. does not even make the top 100. For a city with a population of roughly 4 million, it seems contrary to reason that L.A. should not be further up on the list, despite a large disparity between L.A. and Baltimore’s population size. What is L.A. doing right? A simple skim of the LAPD website proved one thing L.A. is doing that Baltimore is not: community involvement. Does the community have the power to make a significant dent in crime?

They are untrained, uninformed, and unarmed, yet they are fighting crime right alongside the police. There are fifteen ways to volunteer with the police in L.A. In Baltimore, you can apply to be an officer, but you cannot hope to extend your helping hand unofficially.

The normally tight-lipped police are warming up to public attention in L.A. Going above and beyond presenting weekly or monthly crime stats, the LAPD has community pages with  steady streams of news, along with the names and photos of the officers in charge in that community. To top that, in case you didn’t know which community encompasses your little neighborhood, you can peruse an alphabetical list of neighborhoods, just shy of 200.

However, it is one thing to keep up with the crime, and another to prevent it. The LAPD has taken a more proactive approach to informing the public about crime: they let them contribute to the investigation. As involvement moves from neighborhood watches  to civilian jobs in the police department, the line is becoming blurred between civilian and cop. Civilians are looking like caped crusaders, running around anonymously and fighting crime. They get the benefit of being do-gooders without the risk of an identifying badge.

One fascinating example is the system of “e-policing”. The website description is as follows: “you will receive emails from your senior lead officer (SLO), who is your liaison with the LAPD.” Anyone who’s ever followed a tv crime drama must be screaming with joy. They get a chance to actually partner with the police on important investigations.

Further evidence of this is the “Solve a Crime” section, in which a list of unsolved cases is posted, complete with any video surveillence of the crime has been collected that the police feel would aid in the investigation. Civilians can review the case and contact the lead detective with information.

If that isn’t enough, civilians can become official–without the badge. There are over 100 civilian job classificiations, including collecting and analyzing evidence, answering 911 calls, supervising jails, and assisting in surveillance.

One thing Baltimore has caught on to, however, is Nixle. Nixle is “a professional-grade mass communication system allowing the LAPD to communicate directly with a geographically specific portion of community”. The information is transferred across a “secure, standardized platform”, so it is safe for all to use. With programs like Nixle, the community can keep an ongoing dialogue with the police department. The speed of information is better than just waiting for your local tv station to report the news.

The good news is, crime is dropping in almost every city, albeit unevenly. An article from The Baltimore Sun reveals that the city is in good company: “Baltimore’s drop in crime mirrors a nationwide trend…some [cities] are at four-decade lows. That has kept Baltimore, despite its strides, near the top of lists that rank violent crimes.”

L.A. is one such city that has had a drop large enough to significantly overshadow Baltimore.  As of Jan. 2010, “officials say that “in spite of budget cuts and an understaffed police force, L.A.’s crime  rate reached a 50-year low.” This is a trend that has been going on for some time. In 2006, L.A. already held a dramatic advantage over Baltimore. In comparative crime ratios per 100,000 people, Baltimore led in every category, and beat the national average in all but rape.

If the LAPD is “understaffed” as mentioned above, how is it comprehensible that L.A. can maintain this advantage, as well as improve upon its overall crime rate? Perhaps it is not as understaffed as it seems. Volunteers from every L.A. community are contributing to the crime-fighting efforts. The programs already touched on just scratch the surface. There are even more ways to get involved, including internship opportunities with local universities, teen programs, community events, and gang injunctions (a community effort of preventative violence by way of stopping gangs before they strike).

It may be time to retire the police excuse, “Let us do our job” and let communities do their jobs of bringing justice. After all, who cares more about what goes on in a city than the people who live there? They’ll see to it that the job gets done.

For more information on the opportunities at the Los Angeles Police Department, visit: