The Jails Project at the ACLU of Southern California is the court ordered monitor for all Los Angeles County Jails. The role of the project is to ensure that incarcerated individuals receive the basic care that is their human right. Currently, the LA County jail system is the largest in the world. An average of 17,000 individuals are incarcerated in LA county jails, 2,000 of them being women. The mission and vision of the Jails Project is to reduce recidivism, provide alternatives to incarceration, and monitor the conditions and medical services within all of the Los Angeles County jail facilities. This summer internship was an opportunity to be a part of a larger organization, advocating for justice on varying issues throughout the United States; holding individuals, corporations, and exploitative actors accountable when it comes to human rights abuses. The ACLU was founded in 1920, and since then it has been an active actor for communities in protecting one’s individual rights and liberties.
During the course of this 8-10 week full time internship, I worked with a cohort of front line responders within the Jails Team. This group consisted of law students and undergraduates under the supervision of an attorney, leading the project. This internship included the following: screening written and telephone requests by inmates and family members for aid regarding conditions, medical access, mental health access, amongst others in the LA County Jails. Also, assisting the Director of Jails with sorting, analyzing and inputting responses received from the LA Sheriff’s Department as a means to ensure they meet legal requirements and standards.
Prior to this internship, I took two courses offered through the Lang Prison Initiative: Enchantment: Un/Re/Making World and Self (Spring 2019), and a Directing course (Fall 2018). Both of these courses were taught at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. These courses sparked my interest in the prison industrial complex and the injustices of mass incarceration. While also realizing the importance of providing academic experiences that break down the walls of the confined space, allowing the mind to expand its horizons and imagination in the midst of incarceration. My time spent inside MCC enhanced my understanding of the challenges faced while incarcerated, including the “conditions” of prisons. In every class at MCC, I have been struck by how the conversation about living circumstances and constraints consistently emerged, adding to the multifarious burdens that comes from life inside. These courses led me to become involved with the ACLU of SoCal’s Jails work.
The past eight weeks have consisted of legal intake, Los Angeles County jail visits, and attempting to critically understand the larger role the Los Angeles County Jails system has within communities and the greater region of Southern California. “Conditions” refer to beds, change of clothing, meals/LGBTQ+/trans classification, outdoor recreation, showers, telephones, overcrowding, protective custody, religious services, mail, allegations of violence and retaliation, and other issues that may arise. The jails team worked closely with the LGBTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice project because many of the issues within the jails stem from the safety of women, LGBTQ, intersex, and non-binary people within incarcerated spaces. The role of the jails team is important because without the work that they do, the maltreatment within these facilities would go unscathed, it is the role of the Jails Team to hold these institutions accountable. However, it proves to be extremely difficult when much of the maltreatment occurs under the guise of handling issues appropriately by completing resolutions sent in by the ACLU, when in reality treatment can be unnecessarily brutal and go unreported. This was seen time and time again, leading to probing investigation and research.
Depending on the issue that is being reported to the Jails Team from an individual in custody or family member, would determine the steps the team would take to process the grievance. If it were an issue perceived to be a quick fix, an intern would input the grievance into the system, send it to the grievance department within the Los Angeles County Jails, while they would work to resolve the issue. Once the issue was deemed resolved by the department, the Jails Team would receive a resolution letter, record it, and send back to the individual who filed the complaint, ensuring the problem had been resolved. If the issue was deemed particularly egregious ie. deputies instigating ‘inmate on inmate’ violence, deputies retaliating against a person in custody, or American with Disabilities Act (ADA) issues, we would proceed to investigate and retain information in order to better understand the issue, thus conducting jail visits. Over the course of this internship I conducted interviews a few times a week at different facilities. These experiences greatly enhanced my understanding of what inadequate conditions look like, how facilities get away with not providing proper care, and the ways in which jail facilities operate on both a minute and grand scale. For example, I conducted an interview with an individual who was experiencing several medical issues, as the individual proceeded to elaborate on the varying issues within the facility, he spoke critically about the jail and the ways in which it operates as a chess game, essentially running itself. He reported on several incidents that occurred during his time in custody and how they were handled depending on the classification of groups being housed in the facility. These visits painted the picture a bit clearer for me, through conversations with Correctional Officers, Sargeants, and incarcerated individuals, I was able to better understand how these spaces operate, and learn of their dysfunctionalities.
This internship took place in the ACLU of SoCal’s Los Angeles office. The people in the office included attorneys, interns working on differing projects, and other staff members working diligently on issues going on within the United States today. The ACLU hosted a handful of “Brown Bag” events for the interns, in which there were talks given by a plethora of professionals in their field, such as attorneys, judges and activists.
This internship provided the opportunity of a lifetime. Being an active participant of this Project granted me invaluable knowledge and insight that I will continue to expand as I develop this work further. This internship strengthened my skills in advocating effectively, educating responsibly, and grasping the rule of law and how it can be refined and reshaped into energetic and dynamic litigation. Throughout this experience I was able to better understand the ways in which legal proceedings and the law take shape when it comes to social injustices. This internship opportunity widened the breadth of my experience and knowledge, and will continue to motivate me for future endeavors.