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Sheriff Baca introduces new county jails chief

March 18, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The troubled Los Angeles County jail system gets a new chief after the previous head resigned under fire. The new assistant sheriff was introduced Monday by Sheriff Lee Baca.

The L.A. County jail system needs help and Sheriff Baca says Terri McDonald, a former undersecretary for California prisons, comes armed with experience.

"She understands policy, she understands training," said Baca.

And now as head of the Custody Division she must address complaints, from unreasonable force to discipline. McDonald says she aims to change the way deputies in the jails approach their job.

"Correctional science is different than street law enforcement science, and focusing people's energies and efforts in becoming experts in the custody side of law enforcement," said McDonald.

Her appointment follows a report by the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence that blasted the sheriff's department for lack of leadership and failure to rein in aggressive deputies. The sheriff says he embraces its recommendations but disputes the number of actual incidents of excessive force.

"I've looked at over 130 cases that the ACLU presented. We have had three that that we think are problematic," said Baca.

The ACLU balks at Baca's position and hopes it doesn't sway the new jails chief.

"But if the sheriff's attitude that this problem is not as serious as people think it is and the jail commission is just allegations, and he gets in the way of her making the serious reforms that are necessary, that will be a real problem," said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California.

Inmate advocate Patrisse Cullors agrees. But she is hopeful.

"To have this new assistant sheriff is a big deal for us because it's a new person to sit down and negotiate with at the table," said Cullors, project director of End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails Coalition.

The sheriff, meantime, is pushing for other reforms. He will speak to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors Tuesday about a new $932-million jail facility with classrooms for inmates to focus less on enforcement, he says, and more on rebuilding human lives.

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