Last year, WitnessLA and LA.Spot.Us collaborated to form the LA Justice Report.

Our first project was a three-part series called Follow the Gang Money detailing how Los Angeles spent its $26 million in gang violence reduction dollars. 

The results got attention from local media such as the LA Times, LA Weekly, LAist, FishbowlLA, KPFK and LA Observed,  (and more as can be seen here and here) -- and at City Hall.

Now, we’re launching a brand new investigative project called DANGEROUS JAILS.

Here’s the deal:

In May of 2010 the Southern California ACLU released a 64-page report charging that Los Angeles County’s Men’s Central Jail was fostering what they described as a “culture of violence and fear,” in which certain guards routinely beat and otherwise physically abused prisoners--- sometimes to the point of severe injury.  If inmates tried to report the mistreatment, said the report, those same deputies threatened them with physical harm.

Meanwhile, the ACLU jail monitors personally observed injuries ranging from broken ribs, black eyes and boot marks on inmates' backs to severe head wounds.

The report also detailed horrfic incidents of inmate-on-inmate violence that the deputies failed to stop, actively facilitated---or, in some cases, “orchestrated.”

After the ACLU document was released, Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the LA County Sheriff’s Department, catagorically rejected the charges. “That allegation, absolutely false,” Whitmore told KPCC’s Frank Stoltze.

However, while local media dutifully covered the release of the report, no one seemed investigate further, and the issue vanished quickly from the public consciousness.

SO WHAT IS THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER?  Is the LA County jail system really that bad?

We feel it is crucial to find out.

With these questions in mind, the LA Justice Report has launched our newest investigative project.

In the first stage of our reporting, we have already turned up a series of alarming cases. 

Yet we have far more investigating still to go.

We'll give you updates as we progress. In the meantime, please help us fund this important initiative.

And, remember, unlike prisons, about 70 to 80 percent of the nearly 20,000 detainees in the Los Angeles County jail system, at any given time, are there awaiting trial, not serving time on a criminal conviction.

In other words, if a pattern of violence and abuse is truly occurring, it could affect anyone with the misfortune to be arrested and jailed, however briefly, in LA County.


UPDATE:  Part 1 of this series may be found here and here!


CELESTE FREMON is WitnessLA’s creator and editor. She is also an award winning freelance journalist specializing in gangs, law enforcement, criminal justice and education policy. She’s the author of G-Dog and the Homeboys, and is working on a new book, An American Family, about the life of a parolee, his wife and kids, during his first four years out of prison (based on her LA Weekly series of the same name). She’s a senior fellow for social justice and new media at the Institute for Justice and Journalism, a Visiting Lecturer at UC Irvine where she teaches literary journalism as it relates to social justice, an adjunct professor at the Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California, and a regular commenter on NBC's The Filter. (She is also a river rafter, critter patter, rose wrangler, and the outrageously proud mom of Will Mason, who keeps the technical side of WitnessLA up and running.)

MATTHEW FLEISCHER is a member the LA JUSTICE PROJECT reporting team.  He is also a veteran LA-based journalist and editor who has been a staff writer with the LA Weekly and senior editor of the LA City Beat. He is currently a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times Magazine, co-editor for Fishbowl LA, and he writes for several other outlets both print and online, including LA.Spot.Us's Daily Vitamin, where he blogs on quality of life issues across the metropolis. Matt has been honored by the Association for Alternative Newsweeklies and by the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) for his story “Navahoax.” His story “Children of the Revolutionary” was honored by the The LA Press Club and First Amendment Funding Inc.  Matt is a recipient of a Village Voice Media Fellowship. When Matt is not writing he wanders, usually by foot.


DANGEROUS JAILS will be a penetrating investigative report that also delves into specific cases to put a human face on what is occuring inside LA County's jail system.

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