From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner April 28, 1989
Title – “The fate of East L.A.: One big jail”
If it were a stage play, the final curtain would seem to have fallen, with the governor yielding to the public will, the little people sipping champagne and the press boasting about how the system works.
On April 5, the Environmental Impact Report Certification Panel rejected, by vote of 2-0, the EIR for the proposed downtown prison in East L.A., with Gov. George Deukmejian’s appointee abstaining. Among other things, the panel found that the report failed to weigh adequately the negative impact the prison would have on hazardous waste, community identity, traffic and property values in East L.A.
But the downtown prison is far from dead. The Department of Corrections has three months to either amend the EIR or come up with a new one. And few political experts expect Deukmejian to do the rational thing and find another site, which would be tantamount to surrender.
Problem is the Department of Corrections, in an unprecedented move, bought the land for the proposed prison before conducting an EIR, spending $14.6 million – high even at L.A. prices – for fewer than 14 acres. Ironically, the Department of Corrections could have had land in Hungry Valley for virtually nothing.
The Department of Corrections, according to reliable sources, already has spent $500,000 to $600,000 for two worthless EIRs. If it decides to continue its relentless assault on the East Side, the department will surely spend another $500,000 for an amended or a new environmental report.
The governor’s insistence on an East L.A. prison is even more irrational when considered in the context of his other law-and-order policies. For example, Deukmejian’s proposed ’89-90 budget would cut state funds for county probation camps from $67.3 million to $30.4 million. If enacted, the reduction would force L.A. County to eliminate youth rehabilitation camps that currently house marginal offenders. As a result, 1,660 boys and 110 girls would be shipped off to more draconian California Youth Authority camps, where rehabilitation would be much more difficult.
This proposed cut highlights Deukmejian’s contradictory approach to law and order. If the purpose of a justice system is to rehabilitate, it is patently irrational to throw young first offenders into warehouses that society has allowed to deteriorate into crime schools, where kids are dared to sal si puedes (“get out if you can”).
The implications of Deukmejian’s policies for Latinos are even more appalling. Most studies indicate that, by the year 2000, 90 percent of the state adult prison population will be people of color. Census data also suggest that Latinos will be poorer and make up some 40 percent of the state’s population. All of which means that a majority of those caged in our prisons will be Latinos.
Today, roughly 75 percent of the L.A. prison population is warehoused on the East Side, which has become a popular dumping ground for local, state and federal correctional facilities. Either by accident or design, these prisons represent the future that the Deukmejians of California see for Latinos.
No matter how you cut it, the victims are – and will be – Latinos, both inside and outside the area’s jails. Consider that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department wants to expand its East Side County Jail to house 4,000 more inmates. The department had wanted to build a jail in the Lancaster area to handle the overload. But when Democrats applied their equal-pain doctrine – approved a state prison for downtown L.A. only if one were built in the white Republican Lancaster community – the county facility was pre-empted. So the Sheriffs Department is taking the easy way out by enlarging what is already one of the largest jails – 8,000 inmates – in the United States. No matter what happens, then, the system is working against East Side residents: Their community seems destined to become one big jail.
It is fair to wonder if the governor would act so irrationally if the East Side community were Armenian rather than Latino. Understandably, he deplores the Armenian genocide. He played a prominent role in sending aid to the quake victims in Soviet Armenia.
But isn’t it long past time for the governor to pay equal attention to the plight of Latinos who live in his state and are victimized by his policies? Deukmejian should begin his sensitivity training by reading a history of the region. He would learn that many of us were here long before his ancestors got off the boat.
Meanwhile, Latinos should demand a little perestroika – and insist that the governor put the state prison in Hungry Valley.