Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown LA.

Eight months ago, the Civil Rights Corps was part of an effort to critique Los Angeles County’s $8.6 million contract with Accenture to create pretrial services. Now they allege that the contract was awarded illegally, through a non-competitive process.

In a March 11 letter, the group pointed to ways they believe the contract went around the county’s own rules, as well as the Board of Supervisors’ instructions. They also say the contract is a misuse of Measure J funds, which were approved by voters in 2020 to be used on community-based programs free of police involvement. The letter ends by asking the county to “exercise its authority to cancel the Contract with Accenture immediately.”

The county already has a plan called Care First, Jails Last that it could be following to plot out how to create pretrial services, advocates have said, instead of relying on Accenture to re-do the process. That plan was a rare achievement, and the Accenture contract is erasing that, according to Danielle Dupuy-Watson, executive director of Civil Rights Corps. 

“I think if you ask just about anyone in the community about whether they think the use of Accenture in this way is helpful for Los Angeles, helpful for pretrial services, I could not imagine one person who would say yes, except, of course, probably the people who did the contract. And it makes you wonder, ‘Where’s the community voice in this?’” Dupuy-Watson said.

Dupuy-Watson says that while their letter lays out legal issues with the contract, they are not currently pursuing a lawsuit. They are “hopeful that the county will just cancel the contract, [that] they’ll do what’s right,” she said.

Their letter – which makes several arguments about how the contract was improperly awarded – opens with the general argument that the Accenture contract exposes the county to litigation on “several fronts.” They state that the contract “is a prime target for taxpayer litigation.” They also say that there could be a “public-interest standing” calling for a court order to terminate the contract.

The LA County Board of Supervisors did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent starting March 12 (apart from Supervisor Janice Hahn who declined to comment). The Justice, Care, and Opportunities Department (JCOD), which awarded the contract, has issued a statement to LA Public Press stating they had been given the authority to hire Accenture by the board.

What the Civil Rights Corps is arguing

The Civil Rights Corps is also involved in an ongoing challenge of LA County’s bail policies. They are in the midst of suing LA law enforcement agencies for their role in carrying out the bail schedule with people who are in custody before arraignment. The organization contends LA County has a duty to use a competitive process to award contracts, and that the Accenture contract was awarded through a “backroom deal.”

The Board of Supervisors in November 2022 approved a motion that the county said gives JCOD the ability to negotiate a contract to facilitate the creation of pretrial services. But the Civil Rights Corps argues that this motion went around the county’s charter and codes, including a requirement that the Board of Supervisors enact an ordinance to “waive contracting procedures.”

JCOD did not respond to LA Public Press’s question about whether an ordinance needed to be enacted in order to follow the process that County officials ended up using to approve the contract.

Civil Rights Corps also argues that according to a California code, the Board of Supervisors cannot delegate authority to negotiate to others if the contract is over $200,000.

JCOD has responded in a statement to LA Public Press that their department “invoked board-delegated authority in entering the Accenture contract and not a purchasing agent authority. Thus, the $200,000 limit per Government Code section 25502.5 is inapplicable.”

Civil Rights Corps also points out that the county also did not seem to comply with that November 2022 motion. Even though the motion capped the cost of the use of Measure J funds for the contract at $3 million, with extensions that require approval by county counsel, JCOD negotiated a $8.6 million contract with Accenture.

JCOD also responded to this in its statement to LA Public Press that “the final contract exceeding the $3 million limit set in the motion is inapplicable because JCOD pulled from a different funding source and appeals to a different authority to enter the contract.”

JCOD did not immediately respond to questions from LA Public Press asking the county to identify which other funding source was used, and what the rules around the use of those funds are.

Civil Rights Corps also argues that the contract itself violates the rules for how the Measure J funds can be used. Measure J funds are supposed to be used for direct community investment into youth development, affordable housing, and other community programs, as well as alternatives to incarceration such as housing and counseling. The organization’s letter contends that Measure J’s language doesn’t include mention of using the funds to hire consultants, like Accenture for example, to determine where the money goes.

What’s at stake

LA’s overcrowded jails include thousands of people who are still awaiting trial and have not been found guilty of a crime. Meanwhile, the conditions are so severe that nearly four people died per month last year. 

The urgency of such “pretrial” conditions was taken up in the Care First, Jails Last plan which was the result of a working group made up of community groups and law enforcement representatives, that laid out comprehensive fixes to problems with the criminal justice system that is leading to over incarceration. 

The plan called for pretrial programs to ensure people have enough support – through a reminders system, childcare, and transportation, for example – to make court hearings, so they would not have to be held in jail unnecessarily. Stays in jail can lead to further life-altering complications for people, such as loss of housing and jobs. 

The fixes were meant to be community-based programs that avoided law enforcement involvement. But when it came time to carry out the fixes to the pretrial system, the county chose to hire Accenture last year, alarming advocacy groups who last September launched a campaign called Expose Accenture. They said the firm has troubling ties with law enforcement and not enough experience to work on the creation of pretrial programs.

Meanwhile, Civil Rights Corps points out, for example, in a slide deck prepared for an August 2023 meeting facilitated through the Accenture contract, it states that “electronic monitoring was widely viewed as a favorable alternative to custody with the support of a transitional community and access to safe, supervised housing.”

They argue that the benefits of using electronic monitoring devices are not proven by social science and are racially biased. And there are worries about where the current discussions facilitated by Accenture could go. According to the UCLA study they cite, the use of such devices has grown dramatically in recent years.

The study also points to possible reasons for the increased use of such devices. Researchers said that some factors include LA County receiving funding that they were required to spend partly on expanding “monitored release,” a court case known as In re Humphrey (which challenged the judicial system, rather than the pre-arraignment period in which law enforcement agencies play a role like the Urquidi case does), the COVID-19 pandemic, and jail decarceration efforts such as the Board of Supervisor’s support for closing Men’s Central Jail could be factors.

That study also says that the majority of people placed on electronic monitoring were Black and Latinx.

Alicia Virani, the author of the UCLA study, told LA Public Press in an interview last year about ongoing updates to release policies that they found an increase in electronic monitoring of 5,250% for people in the pretrial phase of their case from 2015 to 2021. 

“We don’t have recent data,” Virani said at the time, “but I can only assume that the numbers have continued to go up and certainly with these new policies, we may be seeing more electronic monitoring and that’s really troubling.”

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

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