Non-profit

Reform L.A. Jails

Website:

reformlajails.com

Founding:

2018

Location:

Los Angeles, California

Chair:

Patrisse Cullors

Budget:

$1.9 million (2020, estimated)

The Reform LA Jails project promotes left-of-center criminal justice and corrections policies in Los Angeles County, California. It sponsored a successful 2020 county-level ballot initiative to give the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission subpoena power to investigate alleged misconduct by sheriff’s deputies in county jails and require the county to develop a plan to divert billions of dollars in funding from police and jails into “alternatives to incarceration.” [1] [2]

Reform LA Jails was founded and is led by Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, who said her brother Rodney O. Cullors had been “tortured and brutalized” in the Los Angeles County Jail by sheriff’s deputies in 1999. [3] He was again an inmate in the Los Angeles County Jail in April 2020 when Reform LA Jails filed an unsuccessful lawsuit on his and other inmates’ behalf seeking their release from jail during the COVID-19 pandemic.

History and Leadership

Reform LA Jails was founded by Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. [4] It grew out of JusticeLA, an organization founded by Cullors and other left-wing activists in 2017 to oppose the expansion of the Los Angeles County Jail. [5] [6]

Activities

2020 Ballot Proposal

Reform LA Jails’ first initiative was a successful Los Angeles County ballot proposal to give the county’s Civilian Oversight Commission the power to subpoena witnesses and documents from the Sheriff’s Department. [7] Despite claims that it was “powered by Black Lives Matter, community organizations, and grassroots citizens,” [8] more than half of the funding for the “Yes on R” ballot campaign came from left-of-center donor Cari Tuna, the wife of Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz. [9]

Los Angeles County’s legal counsel advised local officials that the subpoena power would have no meaningful effect as the Civilian Oversight Commission already had access under law to all publicly available information about sheriff’s department activities, but that California law banned the use of subpoenas by public bodies to gain access to non-public information. [10]

The ballot proposal also required the county to develop a “feasibility study” to restructure the county’s criminal justice system under a left-of-center model of ending incarceration for “nonviolent crimes where mental health, substance abuse and chronic homelessness are issues” and redirecting funding from law enforcement and jails to mental health programs, youth outreach, drug treatment, and similar programs. [11]

The ballot measure received the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times editorial board, and of celebrity supporters such as actresses Natalie Portman and Jane Fonda, who hosted a Reform LA Jails party at her home in 2019. [12] [13] [14] It was approved by voters in May 2020 by a 72.8% to 27.2% margin. [15]

COVID-19 Lawsuit against Los Angeles County Sheriff

The month after the passage of Proposal R, Reform LA Jails launched the “JusticeLA COVID-19 Response,” which filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, seeking the release of a large population of inmates from county jails to protect prisoners from COVID-19. [16]

Patrisse Cullors’ brother Rodney O. Cullors was the lead named plaintiff in the lawsuit. In an April 2020 court filing in a related case, Cullors testified that he had been incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail since February 2019 “because I can’t afford to pay my bail.” [17] He claimed that chronic health conditions, including hypertension, heart problems, spinal damage, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and manic depression, put him at increased risk from COVID-19 infection.

The LASD’s response to the lawsuit noted that there had not been a single COVID-19 death in the Los Angeles County Jail when the lawsuit was filed, and that the coronavirus infection rate among jail inmates at the time was lower than community infection rates in Los Angeles County as a whole. [18] The LASD also warned that the requested court orders had the potential to create dangerous situations in the jails by interfering with corrections best practices such as rules that kept members of rival criminal gangs from being housed in the same cells. [19]

Reform LA Jails and its allies voluntarily dismissed the case on April 27, 2020 – only three days after it was originally filed – after similar lawsuits from other plaintiffs were rejected by the California Supreme Court and a federal district judge. [20] [21] Despite the dismissal, Reform LA Jails continued to promote itself as “taking Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors to court,” using a September 2020 video narrated by Hollywood celebrities such as Natalie Portman, Gabrielle Union, Joaquin Phoenix and Mahershala Ali to encourage people to sign up as “citizen plaintiffs,” a term with no legal meaning. [22] [23]

Associations

Reform LA Jails is part of the Justice Teams Network, a project of Tides Advocacy to promote left-of-center criminal justice policy proposals such as defunding police departments and repealing legal protections for police officers. [24] [25] Patrisse Cullors is a “Strategic Advisor” to Justice Teams Network. [26]

Reform LA Jails is also part of the national effort to elect left-wing Democratic district attorneys across the country, which has received significant funding from financier George Soros. [27] In 2020, successful left-wing Los Angeles County District Attorney challenger George Gascon (D) received millions of dollars in donation from Soros and from Patty Quillin, wife of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and a major supporter of Reform LA Jails’ ballot campaign. [28] Chloe Cockburn, the director of criminal justice reform for the Open Philanthropy Project Fund, credited Reform LA Jails and Justice LA with leading “the effort to elect a long-shot district attorney candidate against a police-union-backed incumbent.” [29]

Controversies

In July 2020, while she was leading Reform LA Jails, Cullors was named Executive Director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. [30] In May 2021, Cullors stepped down from her role at the Foundation after media reports that she had purchased $3.2 million worth of properties across the country since 2016, and other questions were raised about whether she had directed contracts to a company owned by the father of her child. [31] [32]

In April 2021, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported on campaign filings from the “Yes on R” committee showing that Reform LA Jails had paid Cullors’ consulting firm a total of $191,000 in 2019. [33] Reform LA Jails called media reports on Cullors’ compensation and investments “a direct attempt to undermine and derail the success of our work” [34] and claimed she had earned a “market rate salary,” despite being paid through a consultancy instead of as a salaried employee. [35]

In 2019, under Cullors’ leadership, Reform LA Jails received a formal warning from the California Fair Political Practices Commission for violating the California Political Reform Act by failing to file required campaign financial statements on time. [36]

Reform LA Jails was also criticized for spending more than $25,000 on “meetings and appearances” at an upscale Malibu beach resort in 2019, funneling the money through a consultancy owned by Cullors’ co-author Asha Bandele. [37] [38]

Funding

Reform LA Jails and its “Yes on R” ballot campaign have received significant funding from major left-of-center donors.

The Open Philanthropy Project Fund‘s public database lists listing four donations either by the fund or from organizations it advises totaling $2,341,000 from April 2018 through February 2020. [39] Tides Advocacy reported donating $320,000 to Reform LA Jails on its 2018 tax return. [40]

Liberal criminal justice policy advocates Patty Quillin and Quinn Delaney provided $390,000 and $275,000 respectively. [41] [42] [43] Entertainment company Live Nation provided $250,000, [44] while Mark Heising and Elizabeth Simons of the Heising-Simons Foundation contributed $150,000. [45]

References

  1. “About the Initiative.” Reform LA Jails. Reform LA Jails. Accessed June 28, 2021. http://reformlajails.com/about/. ^
  2. Ryan Carter, “LA County Leaders Approve Road Map to Reinvent Jail System,” Los Angeles Daily News (Southern California News Group, March 10, 2020), https://www.dailynews.com/2020/03/10/la-county-leaders-approve-road-map-to-reinvent-jail-system/. ^
  3. “CLASS ACTION PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND COMPLAINT FOR INJUNCTIVE AND DECLARATORY RELIEF,” RODNEY CULLORS, DENEAL YOUNG, JESSICA HAVILAND, RANY UONG, MARK AVILA, CAROLE DUNHAM, LEANDREW LEWIS, VICTOR GUTIERREZ, JEREMIAH FARMER, on behalf of themselves and all others similar situated, DIGNITY AND POWER NOW, YOUTH JUSTICE COALITION, vs. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF ALEX VILLANUEVA, and DOES 1-10, inclusive (United States District Court, Central District of California, April 24, 2020), https://jlacovid19.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Doc-001.Class-Action-Petition-for-Writ-Complaint.04-24-20.pdf. ^
  4. Lina Lecaro, “Fighting for What Matters: Patrisse Cullors’ Approach to Social Justice Is Artful and Powerful,” LA Weekly, June 5, 2020, https://www.laweekly.com/fighting-for-what-matters-patrisse-cullors-approach-to-social-justice-is-artful-and-powerful/. ^
  5. “Fighting the L.A. County Jail Expansion,” JusticeLA (Justice LA), accessed June 28, 2021, https://justicelanow.org/. ^
  6. JLA Team, “JusticeLA Kicks Off Campaign to End Jail Expansion in L.A. County,” Justice LA, September 23, 2017, https://justicelanow.org/justicela-kicks-off-campaign-to-end-jail-expansion-in-l-a-county/ ^
  7. “Summary of Initiative,” Reform L.A. Jails, March 23, 2018, http://reformlajails.com/summary/. ^
  8. “About the Initiative.” Reform LA Jails. Reform LA Jails. Accessed June 28, 2021. http://reformlajails.com/about/. ^
  9. “Los Angeles County, California, Measure R, Civilian Police Oversight Commission and Jail Plan Initiative (March 2020),” Ballotpedia, accessed June 28, 2021, https://ballotpedia.org/Los_Angeles_County,_California,_Measure_R,_Civilian_Police_Oversight_Commission_and_Jail_Plan_Initiative_(March_2020). ^
  10. Elizabeth Marcellino, “’Reform LA Jails’ Initiative Will Wait for 2020 Vote,” NBC Los Angeles (NBC Southern California, October 10, 2018), https://www.nbclosangeles.com/local/reform-la-jails-initiative-will-wait-for-2020-vote/48845/. ^
  11. “Summary of Initiative,” Reform L.A. Jails, March 23, 2018, http://reformlajails.com/summary/. ^
  12. “Endorsement: Yes on Measure R for Sheriff Accountability and Smarter Criminal Justice,” Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2020), https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-02-13/support-measure-r-subpoena-power. ^
  13. Jamil Smith, “‘Yes on R,’ L.A.’s Super Tuesday Shot at Jail Reform,” Rolling Stone, March 3, 2020, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/yes-on-r-l-a-s-super-tuesday-shot-at-jail-reform-961200/. ^
  14. “From Our Founder and Chair, @OsopePatrisse…We’ve Spent 1.5 Years Working on @ReformLAJails. @Janefonda Was an Early Endorser of the Campaign. Tonight We Had a Brilliant House Party at Her House.” Reform LA Jails on Twitter (Twitter, November 17, 2019), https://twitter.com/ReformLAJails/status/1196045223010455553. ^
  15. “Los Angeles County, California, Measure R, Civilian Police Oversight Commission and Jail Plan Initiative (March 2020),” Ballotpedia, accessed June 28, 2021, https://ballotpedia.org/Los_Angeles_County,_California,_Measure_R,_Civilian_Police_Oversight_Commission_and_Jail_Plan_Initiative_(March_2020). ^
  16. “JusticeLA COVID-19 Response,” JusticeLA COVID-19 Response (Reform LA Jails), accessed June 28, 2021, https://jlacovid19.org/. ^
  17. Cullors, Rodney O. “Declaration of Rodney Cullors.” National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and Youth Justice Coalition v. Gavin Newsom, California Governor, in his Official Capacity, and Xavier Becerra, California Attorney General, in his Official Capacity (Case No. S261827). National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, April 24, 2020. https://www.nacdl.org/getattachment/3e1c5375-61b0-4b79-aa7b-532bb1e6867a/appendix-of-exhibits-vol-3-of-4.pdf. Page 540 ^
  18. “DEFENDANTS’ OPPOSITION TO PLAINTIFFS’ EX PARTE APPLICATION FOR TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER,” RODNEY CULLORS, et al., Plaintiffs, vs. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, et al; Defendants. (United States District Court, Central District of California, Western Division, April 27, 2020), https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.cacd.780870/gov.uscourts.cacd.780870.28.0.pdf. Page 6 ^
  19. “DEFENDANTS’ OPPOSITION TO PLAINTIFFS’ EX PARTE APPLICATION FOR TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER,” RODNEY CULLORS, et al., Plaintiffs, vs. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, et al; Defendants. (United States District Court, Central District of California, Western Division, April 27, 2020), https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.cacd.780870/gov.uscourts.cacd.780870.28.0.pdf. Page 6 ^
  20. Egelko, Bob. “Coronavirus and Jails: California Supreme Court Rejects Prisoner Release Lawsuit.” San Francisco Chronicle. May 4, 2020. https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Coronavirus-and-jails-California-Supreme-Court-15246363.php. ^
  21. Bob Egelko, “Federal Judge Refuses to Release Large Number of California Prisoners,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 17, 2020, https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Federal-judge-refuses-to-release-large-number-of-15209081.php. ^
  22. Lexy Perez, “Natalie Portman, Gabrielle Union, Joaquin Phoenix Lead #SuingToSaveLives PSA for COVID-19 Response Coalition (Exclusive),” The Hollywood Reporter (The Hollywood Reporter, September 24, 2020), https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/general-news/natalie-portman-gabrielle-union-joaquin-phoenix-lead-suingtosavelives-psa-for-covid-19-response-coalition-4066236/. ^
  23. #SuingToSaveLives (Reform LA Jails, 2020), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUAVnWXwalc. ^
  24. “Justice Teams Network Holds Police Accountable Across CA,” Tides Advocacy, September 11, 2018, https://tidesadvocacy.org/story/justice-teams-network/. ^
  25. Cat Brooks, “Our Vision,” Justice Teams Network (Tides Advocacy), accessed June 28, 2021, https://justiceteams.org/our-vision. ^
  26. “Our Team,” Justice Teams Network, accessed June 28, 2021, https://justiceteams.org/new-page. ^
  27. Scott Bland et al., “George Soros’ Quiet Overhaul of the U.S. Justice System,” POLITICO, August 30, 2016, https://www.politico.com/story/2016/08/george-soros-criminal-justice-reform-227519. ^
  28. Maloy Moore, Ryan Menezes, and James Queally, “Here Are the Mega-Donors and Police Unions Pouring Millions into L.A. County D.A. Race,” Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times, November 3, 2020), https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-district-attorney-race-top-donors/. ^
  29. Chloe Cockburn, “Opinion | Money Can’t Buy Criminal Justice Reform. But It Can Fuel a Movement.,” The Washington Post (WP Company, March 16, 2021), https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/03/16/los-angeles-criminal-justice-reform-money/. ^
  30. “Seven Years of Growth: BLM’s Co-Founder and Incoming Executive Director Reflects on the Movement.” Black Lives Matter, September 11, 2020. https://blacklivesmatter.com/seven-years-of-growth-blms-co-founder-and-incoming-executive-director-reflects-on-the-movement/. ^
  31. Aaron Morrison, “BLM’s Patrisse Cullors to Step down from Movement Foundation,” AP NEWS (Associated Press, May 27, 2021), https://apnews.com/article/ca-state-wire-george-floyd-philanthropy-race-and-ethnicity-0a89ec240a702537a3d89d281789adcf. ^
  32. Press, Associated. “BLM’s Patrisse Cullors to Step down from Movement Foundation.” POLITICO. POLITICO, May 27, 2021. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/05/27/black-lives-matter-patrisse-cullors-491275. ^
  33. Andrew Kerr, “BLM’s ‘Marxist’ Co-Founder Raked In $20,000 A Month As Chairwoman Of Jail Reform Group,” The Daily Caller (Daily Caller News Foundation, April 14, 2021), https://dailycaller.com/2021/04/13/patrisse-cullors-reform-la-jails/. ^
  34. “Instagram Post: CNtSg8uAvmF,” Reform LA Jails on Instagram (Instagram, April 15, 2021), https://www.instagram.com/p/CNtSg8uAvmF/. ^
  35. “Instagram Post: CNtQgOsA-oz,” Reform LA Jails on Instagram (Instagram, April 15, 2021), https://www.instagram.com/p/CNtQgOsA-oz/. ^
  36. West, Galena. “Warning Letter Re: FPPC No. 2019-01281; Reform LA Jails A Committee Supporting Jail Reform and Community Reinvestment, Sponsored by Justice Team Network, A Project of Tides Advocacy.” California.gov. State of California Fair Political Practices Commission, October 22, 2019. https://www.fppc.ca.gov/content/dam/fppc/documents/enf_letter/1-28-20/Reform%20LA%20Jails%20A%20Committee%20Supporting%20Jail%20Reform%20and%20Community%20Reinvestment%20Sponsored%20by%20Justice%20Team%20Network%20A%20Project%20for%20Tides%20Advocacy%20-%20201901281.pdf. ^
  37. Julian Baron, “Groups Chaired by BLM Co-Founder under Fire for Spending, Disclosure Issues,” Fox45 News (Sinclair Broadcast Group, April 28, 2021), https://foxbaltimore.com/account/groups-chaired-by-blm-co-founder-under-fire-for-spending-disclosure-issues. ^
  38. Andrew Kerr, “BLM Co-Founder’s Jail Reform Group Dropped $26,000 At Luxury Malibu Beach Resort,” The Daily Caller (Daily Caller News Foundation, May 2, 2021), https://dailycaller.com/2021/04/26/reform-la-jails-malibu-beach-resort/. ^
  39. “Grants Database,” Open Philanthropy (Open Philanthropy Project Fund), accessed June 28, 2021, https://www.openphilanthropy.org/giving/grants. ^
  40. Tides Advocacy, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990), 2018, Schedule I https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/943153687/201912829349300916/full ^
  41. “Recipient Committee Campaign Statement,” California Fair Political Practices Commission (Los Angeles County Clerk, August 4, 2020), https://apps1.lavote.net/camp/Schedules/6514.pdf (pg. 5) ^
  42. “Campaign Finance: Delaney, M. Quinn,” CAL-ACCESS (California Secretary of State), accessed July 8, 2021, https://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Campaign/Committees/Detail.aspx?id=1224960&session=2019&view=contributions. ^
  43. “Campaign Finance: Delaney, M. Quinn,” CAL-ACCESS (California Secretary of State), accessed July 8, 2021, https://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Campaign/Committees/Detail.aspx?id=1224960&view=contributions&session=2017 . ^
  44. “497 Contribution Report,” California Fair Political Practices Commission (Los Angeles County Clerk, February 14, 2020), https://apps1.lavote.net/camp/Schedules/5692.pdf. ^
  45. “497 Contribution Report,” California Fair Political Practices Commission (Los Angeles County Clerk, February 14, 2020), https://apps1.lavote.net/camp/Schedules/5690.pdf ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Patrisse Cullors
    Officer/Board Member
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