LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to more aggressively pursue compliance with a 2003 federal law aimed at reducing sexual assaults of jail inmates and juvenile probationers.
In the wake of reported assaults of female inmates at the Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood and girls at Camp Scudder in Santa Clarita, Supervisor Janice Hahn recommended setting up two dedicated units — one for the Sheriff’s Department and one for the Probation Department — to ensure compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
“While we work to transform our criminal justice system … some kind of recourse when it comes to sexual abuse is critically important,” Hahn said.
Despite a requirement for audits every three years, “none of our facilities have undergone an audit,” she said.
Compliance with PREA’s 48 standards is complex and funded is limited, according to Karen Dalton of the sheriff’s custody services division. Those standards include barring cross-gender strip searches and a method for reporting abuse to an outside, independent entity.
“PREA is an unfunded mandate, so it’s a very difficult provision to put in place,” Dalton told the board.
It requires a number of administrative changes to the booking process and rethinking the way that inmates are housed, Dalton said.
The Sheriff’s Department successfully applied for federal grant money in 2015 and has been working with Just Detention International, a nonprofit organization seeking to end sexual abuse in detention, to institute some changes.
The department is working to make sure that potential victims and perpetrators aren’t housed together, adding training for sexual assault investigators and staff, and coordinating closely with medical and mental health personnel on prevention and treatment.
A free rape crisis line is available to CRDC inmates and instructions for how to report assault are set out on posters throughout the jail.
However, 10-15 percent of the complaints coming in to the Citizens Oversight Commission are related to sexual assaults, COC Executive Director Brian Williams told the board.
CRDC Deputy Giancarlo Scotti was arrested in September on suspicion of raping two female inmates and has been placed on administrative leave. Sheriff’s investigators have submitted a case involving three alleged victims of Scotti to the District Attorney’s Office for review, but no charges have yet been filed, according to a D.A’s spokesman.
A federal civil rights lawsuit has also been filed against Scotti alleging assaults, including a plaintiff who was pregnant at the time, the Los Angeles Times reported.
At a news conference to announce Scotti’s arrest, Sheriff Jim McDonnell declined to discuss any prior disciplinary action against the deputy. However, the lawsuit alleges that Scotti had been put on probation for some offense prior to the assaults and that the women who complained suffered retaliation, the Times reported.
The Probation Department also has some work to do. A probation officer was sentenced in September to one year in jail after pleading guilty to two counts of assaulting inmates at a Santa Clarita juvenile hall. The original six charges against Oscar Calderon included allegations involving four victims from 15 to 18 years old.
“Had we requested an audit, we would not be in compliance,” Assistant Chief Probation Officer Sheila Mitchell told the board.
Mitchell said renovations were underway to retrofit restrooms as safe spaces, among other efforts.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored the motion, asked both departments to look for funding sources.
Dalton said she couldn’t offer a reliable, on-the-spot estimate of the cost of complete compliance, but both departments were directed to develop a budget.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the issue had not received enough attention.
“The history of this has been that it’s been undervalued, not taken seriously, underreported,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said, pointing out that nearly a decade passed after PREA became law before federal standards were developed.
“This is a priority,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger said. “You have a board up here who is united and committed to getting this done.”