Los Angeles, CA – Today Los Angeles County got one major step closer to fulfilling the Board of Supervisors’ mandate to close Men’s Central Jail (MCJ), the most outdated and decrepit facility in the County’s jail system. The County named the leaders of the Jail Closure Implementation Team (JCIT) who will develop a plan to close the downtown jail and oversee execution of it. The Team’s first recommendations are due in 60 days.
The County’s debate about MCJ began 25 years ago when the inadequacy of the facility first gained wide public attention. Many reports since then have offered insights, analysis, and recommendations, but for many years, County leaders did not act on those findings. Building on the momentum of a dramatic reduction in the population across the County’s jail system in 2020, the Board of Supervisors, under the leadership of Supervisors Hilda L. Solis and Sheila Kuehl, directed County partners, advocates, and stakeholders to develop a plan to close MCJ without a replacement. Between July 2020 and August 2021, the Board has repeatedly reaffirmed its mandate to close MCJ without a replacement.
Today’s announcement identified the first three members of the Jail Closure Implementation Team. The Team is charged with developing a cohesive and deliberate operational plan for closing MCJ without a replacement. The JCIT will focus on integrating multiple jail population reduction strategies into one effective plan to safely reduce the need for custody beds, by relying on evidence-based and trauma-informed alternatives to incarceration for people who suffer from mental illness, substance use dependency, or are experiencing homelessness.
The Team named today includes:
Brandon Nichols will lead the Implementation Team. Mr. Nichols is an attorney and has served in leadership roles at various LA County departments, including work as the second-in-command at the Department of Children and Family Services where he worked to address systemic inequities and deficiencies in the child welfare system. As an Assistant County Counsel, Mr. Nichols was instrumental in developing the consent decree on conditions in the County jails and he served as lead counsel in a complex lawsuit that led to systemic reform in mental health services for foster children. Most recently, he served as Chief Deputy at the LA County Probation Department where he collaborated with stakeholders to plan for the closure of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Mr. Nichols brings extensive experience in implementing complex reform measures and has been praised by community stakeholders as an effective collaborator and skilled communicator.
Mr. Nichols is joined by Lesley Blacher, a veteran of the County’s Departments of Health Services and Mental Health. Ms. Blacher led the County’s innovative five-year, state-funded Whole Person Care pilot. Whole Person Care was established to streamline access to services for low-income residents who are eligible for both health care and social services, more effectively providing various types of assistance that support low-income families.
Attorney Gina Eachus will also join the Implementation Team to focus on developing legal and legislative strategies. Ms. Eachus has served as the County’s co-lead for the Bail Reform Team, as well as advising the County on Measure J, known as Care First Community Investment.
Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, author of the June 2021 motion that directed the County to close Men’s Central Jail and create the Jail Closure Implementation Team said, “We have identified an outstanding leadership team with deep knowledge of our County departments and funding streams so we can move forward quickly with a concrete plan and timeline for shutting Men’s Central Jail. This is a challenging task, but we are approaching it in an orderly and thoughtful way. We know that there are thousands of people needlessly in custody – people with mental illness, people awaiting trial, women, and transgender individuals – who could be safely released once we build out a robust system of care to support them. We also know that there are immediate steps the County can take to lower the jail population.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, co-author of the motion, said, “Even after 25 years of unrelenting criticism of Men’s Central Jail, there are still a handful of people who question whether we should close this facility. To those people, I say, ‘We have the best thinking of criminal justice experts, judges, mental health professionals, think tanks, civil rights and defense attorneys, victims’ rights groups, bail reform leaders, County leaders, and countless others. Short of a directive from The Almighty, what more could we want? It’s time to shut Men’s Central down.”
The Implementation Team will work with all relevant County departments to set goals, objectives, and timelines for closing and demolishing the jail. The Team will also work in close partnership with the County’s departments of health as well as the Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative to build-out a system of community care that will enable thousands of individuals currently in custody to be safely and stably served in the community in accordance with the County’s Care First, Jail Last vision. The Board also directed the Implementation Team to develop a community engagement plan that includes survivors of harm and formerly and currently incarcerated people.
Among the recent analyses commissioned by the Board of Supervisors on decreasing the jail population are reports by the Executive Steering Committee; Rand Corporation; The Alternatives to Incarceration Working Group; Vera Institute; the Gender Responsive Advisory Committee; the Jail Population Review Council; JFA Institute, the Public Defender, Alternate Public Defender and District Attorney; LA Sheriff’s Department and the Office of Diversion and Reentry.