Dozens of demonstrators blocked a downtown street outside of the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration on Tuesday, placing about 100 steel-frame jail beds on the road to protest the city’s plans to expand the prison system.
Wearing prison-orange T-shirts that read “I am not the property of L.A. County jail,” the protesters set up the prison beds to “represent trauma, torture, embarrassment, isolation, shame and death,” Jayda Rasberry of Dignity and Power Now told reporters during a news conference.
The protest took place while the Board of Supervisors finalized next year’s budget, the Los Angeles Times reports. The country plans on spending about $2 billion to build a 3,885-bed replacement for the men’s facility downtown and a 1,600-bed women’s facility in Lancaster. Critics, however, estimate that the plan could cost closer to $3.5 billion, according to WTOL.
Led by Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, protesters launched the “Justice L.A.” campaign to implore county leaders to use funds for community services instead of incarceration. Tuesday’s protest was their first action.
Black Lives Matter L.A. activist Greg Akili told the Times that the money could go to better use other places.
“We can find $3.5 billion to build more jails, but we can’t find money for schools. We can find money for Olympics, but we can’t find money for parks,” he said. “If you’ve got $3.5 billion, invest it in the people.”
With a budget of more than $700 million, L.A. has the largest county jail system in the nation. In 2015, the seven prison facilities in L.A. County housed a daily average 17,049 inmates overall. About 53 percent of those inmates had yet to stand trial. Each of the facilities, with exception to the male prison, dealt with overcrowding that year.
“I believe that the Board of Supervisors should have a commission to study alternatives to jails,” said Cullors told The Root. “With $3.5 billion, we could support people who are houseless and getting them homes. We could support children who have little access to getting healthy food. I’m a lover of life and I deeply believe in humanity’s ability to do better than we’re currently doing.”