Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva says the jails he now supervises are a dangerous mess: Inmates increasingly are assaulting one another, staff members are suffering more attacks and use of force has gone way up. He also says that his immediate predecessor, Jim McDonnell, covered up data on the jail violence in order to hide the problem from the public.
But many of the numbers Villanueva is using to make his case are known to be unreliable.
After The Times revealed that the Sheriff’s Department was releasing inconsistent numbers for inmate-on-inmate assaults, the county’s inspector general in 2017 launched a review that found the department lacked a standardized tracking method, the same deficiency criticized by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence years earlier. Outdated software systems sometimes undercounted assaults and at other times made duplicate entries.
Although some of the real numbers of incidents during the past several years are unknown, several watchdogs who spend time inside the jails say they do not believe the lockups are more turbulent overall, and that the most violent uses of force by deputies — resulting in bone-breaking injuries — have dropped significantly.
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