Decriminalizing Being Human

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Melissa Camacho. Photo courtesy of guest

Despite the United States accounting for around 5% of the world’s population, it houses nearly a quarter of the world’s prison population. This often discussed metric begins to make sense when examining the major cities like Los Angeles, New York and others, where things like poverty and mental illness are often considered “crimes.” Host Robert Scheer digs into this phenomenon in Los Angeles on this week’s episode of Scheer Intelligence with Melissa Camacho, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.

“First of all, it has to do with the criminalization of poverty, the criminalization of mental illness. What are we talking about? These are people who are innocent at this moment and they have not had any day in court,” Scheer expressed. Together, Scheer and Camacho discussed the recent small victories in L.A. county, where subhuman conditions set for detainees have gradually improved, including new limits on how long detainees can be held at inmate reception centers and how long they can be chained to chairs and benches. Camacho explained that the fight for the improvement of these conditions has been ongoing with the ACLU for over 50 years.

Before this recent victory, detainees would be subject to environments people often associate with third world countries. “[Detainees] were getting stuck in the [inmate reception center] for days at a time, and those who were the sickest were stuck on the front bench, chained to the front bench for literally 24, 48, 72 [hours]. I talked to somebody who had been on the front bench for 99 hours,” Camacho said.

Camacho also mentioned the efforts to control the levels of overpopulation often experienced at these jails. “Our L.A. County jails are authorized to hold around 12,400 people, but they consistently operate above that level, 14,000, 15,000. Before COVID, it was up to 17,000,” Camacho said. As a resident of Los Angeles, Scheer describes how he sees and knows that most of the time, the people who are getting arrested are part of the thousands of houseless people who line the streets of the city.



Joshua Scheer