When Los Angeles voters approved Measure J in 2020, they voted to set aside millions from the LA County budget to pay for community programs to reduce incarceration, explicitly prohibiting the use of that funding for law enforcement. Now, advocacy organizations are sounding the alarm that law enforcement might dictate exactly what those community programs look like. 

Using funding from Measure J, the county then set up the Justice, Care and Opportunities Department (JCOD) last fall, with the stated intention of not involving law enforcement, and began work on creating a pretrial services agency. 

That’s why organizations and activists that supported Measure J are confused about why the county is now awarding $8.6 million to law enforcement-affiliated consultants to interview LA sheriffs, police, and police chiefs to rewrite that plan. And some of them are now calling on the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors to cancel the contract with the organization, Accenture. 

The coalition behind the campaign, called Expose Accenture, issued a statement saying their “demand is to cancel the contract and provide oversight of the money being reallocated to existing community-based pretrial programs that work — given that there already is a pretrial strategy articulated in the Care First report.” 

Danielle Dupuy-Watson, who leads Civil Rights Corps, said they provided research and analysis support to the Expose Accenture campaign.

“There’s absolutely no need to spend this amount of money to redo work that’s already been done,” she said. “And it really shows fiscal irresponsibility by the county departments that have engaged in this contract.”

A former police chief, probation officer, and judge

Law enforcement has not been friendly to Measure J funding. The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the sheriff’s deputies union, spent more than 3 million in advertisements against the measure. After it passed, they joined a coalition of unions that sued in Los Angeles Superior Court to block LA County from using Measure J funds, but an appeals court held the measure constitutional this summer.

In the spring, JCOD awarded a $9 million contract to Accenture, a consulting firm, that then assembled a strategy team that included a former police chief, probation officer, and judge — and plans to interview police and sheriffs to decide on how to spend the Measure J funding. In essence: Accenture’s contract says they will create an entirely new plan based on feedback from community members, but also law enforcement. 

This is why groups that had already helped craft a detailed LA County plan for a new system of services for people awaiting trial, expressed confusion when one of JCOD’s first moves was to award the $9 million contract to Accenture. Accenture also has a background that might be familiar to many Americans: in 2001 it was spun off from Enron’s accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, which was caught in a massive paper-shredding scandal.

Nearly 7,000 people —around half of the people in LA’s jails — are still in the pretrial phase and are still awaiting trial. Compounding the urgency, the number of people dying in the jails is at a record high and continues to climb. 33 people have died in LA jails so far this year

Hamid Khan, one critic of the contract who says he is helping with the campaign, told LA Public Press that Accenture’s work in policing projects and border control are worrying to him. 

“It’s another way to further delay … the participation of the community … which offers real solutions,” he said.

Advocates like Khan point to those conditions as a sign of the urgency for a pretrial services agency to be established quickly. That would include certain basic services such as an easy to use court-reminder system, and support for helping to get people to their hearings, such as transportation and childcare services.

Khan is a long-time organizer with Stop LAPD Spying, and has fought successfully against a predictive policing program proposed by the LAPD. He says he fears having Accenture managing the launch of a pretrial services agency in Los Angeles could lead to troubling results, especially amid the debates over the use of electronic ankle monitoring devices and risk assessment models for releasing people from custody.

Representatives from criminal justice reform groups like JusticeLA Coalition, Care First California, People’s City Council, Civil Rights Corps, Los Angeles Community Action Network, Children’s Defense Fund, and Stop LAPD Spying were among those that have been helping with the Expose Accenture campaign.

A representative for Accenture referred LA Public Press to the county for a response.

Representatives for Expose Accenture, the campaign protesting the contract, argue Accenture’s consulting would essentially undo an extensive plan already created and developed by the Alternatives to Incarceration committee, a working group established by the Board of the Supervisors with deep ties to the community and substantial expertise in the issues around pre-trial conditions and incarceration. That plan was adopted by the Board of Supervisors more than three years ago, in 2020.

Since the Expose Accenture website went up, two groups that were featured as “community partners” by JCOD have come out strongly against the contract: the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit that does research and advocacy on criminal justice reform, and La Defensa, a criminal justice reform advocacy organization. 

The Vera Institute of Justice issued a statement blasting the contract, with the organization’s California director, Michelle Parris, saying “we do not need more reports or research or ideation.” Vera California got involved after the county invited them to attend their meetings on pretrial services implementation, and based on what they saw, the organization is “concerned that the Accenture contract has further delayed implementation of pretrial services Angelenos have long asked and voted for,” Parris said.

Parris says the county “should instead hire a dedicated pretrial services director who has experience setting up ‘care first’ programs for people being released from jail, and is committed to honoring the presumption of innocence.” 

Vera California advocates for more pretrial support in Los Angeles County, and participated in working groups for the closure of Men’s County Jail and Alternatives to Incarceration, which produced the Care First, Jails Last report that included 114 recommendations, including calls the presume people should be released or diverted from custody, pretrial. Court reminders and other support to assist people in appearing for hearings, were also part of the recommendations.

Vera’s original statement did not call on the Board of Supervisors to cancel the contract, but they have since come out with a stronger statement, from Parris, pointing to the supervisors’ ability to do so, and adding in their follow-up statement to LA Public Press that “canceling the contract is not enough.” LA County needs to take serious steps to implement the kind of pretrial system already set up in San Francisco and New York City, Parris said. 

La Defensa, an advocacy group that was also invited to the JCOD’s meetings, also issued a statement last week in which its executive director Ivette Alé-Ferlito, said the group is against Measure J money being used on the Accenture contract.

Alé-Ferlito pointed to what they call “a disturbing track record” by Accenture “of working with local and federal law enforcement agencies.” 

They said La Defensa “joins the calls for the LA County Board of Supervisors to cancel the contract and immediately redirect the dollars to be spent on pretrial services, as intended” by the Board of Supervisors, as well as the language of Measure J, and the Care First Community Investment Committee, which oversees the Measure J funding.

What the county says about the Accenture contract

LA Public Press reached out to all five LA County supervisors, and so far none of them say they will take steps to cancel the contract.

Spokespeople for Janice Hahn, the chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said the supervisor was unaware that JCOD had entered a contract with Accenture and was also unaware of Accenture’s history including ties with police and ICE, adding that at present, “Supervisor Hahn is not calling for the cancellation of this contract.”

The reason JCOD officials, rather than the Board of Supervisors, were able to choose the contractor is because supervisors had voted to grant the new department that authority. This has been done in other instances as well, although ultimately the supervisors have the final say on any and all contracts. The contract was signed by Judge Songhai Armstead, executive director of JCOD.

JCOD officials also characterized Accenture’s role in the process as “limited to project management, coordination, and program implementation support.”

“Accenture and its staff are not directing the design of the pretrial services agency, making critical decisions, or ‘controlling’ the justice system in LA County in any way … As directed by the Board of Supervisors, JCOD is the ultimate decision-maker and driver of the project. JCOD will continue to provide regular updates through its monthly public convenings on the design of pretrial services in Los Angeles County.”

JCOD staff did not initially respond to a question about whether a director needed to be hired to guide the pretrial services agency launch, as recommended by Vera California’s executive director, Parris. They answered a follow-up question about that suggestion, saying:

“JCOD is a brand-new LA County Department that is slowly building its capacity. It began with a lean crew and the department is continuing to expand and build the team to support the work. JCOD does not currently have a pretrial services unit with a position for a “dedicated pretrial services director” in the organizational structure. The department is continuing to work with the CEO to request the positions, position levels, and funding necessary to build out the department and fulfill the JCOD mission.”

Karthryn Barger, who represents the 5th District covering northeast LA county, and Holly Mitchell, who represents the 2nd District, in southwest LA county, both said they defer to JCOD’s authority to establish their own contracts. However, Mitchell added that she believes contracts can always be reviewed to ensure they are still appropriate.

“I understand that good government means reviewing our internal processes from time to time to determine if they are still appropriate and can be defended,” she said. “Above all, we must ensure a shared goal of building a transformative (pretrial) system that is aligned with our Care First Jails Last values and is urgently expanding access to care and services that meets the needs of our residents.”

However, organizers with Expose Accenture like Dupuy-Watson are explicitly calling the board of supervisors to cancel the contract.

“I call on the board of supervisors to just make the right decision and cancel the contract and help support JCOD in achieving its mission,” Dupuy-Watson said. “…There are things that can be done, and they should look to their constituents and to the organizations that have been working on this stuff for so long to actually figure out what to do, and how to do that.

Elizabeth has been on the local government beat since 2006, and likes making her friends take public transportation for her birthday.

Ashley Orona is a journalist and community organizer from South Central Los Angeles. She loves spending time with her family, supporting local businesses, and finding new scenic views around LA.