In a significant step towards a ‘care first, jail last’ approach to community health and public safety, today the Board of Supervisors approved two separate, but related Board motions, both authored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, that would initiate a plan to close Men’s Central Jail within the year and fast track preparations for permanent supportive housing units at Restorative Care Villages situated on County health campuses.
“LA County is prioritizing our ‘care first, jail last’ approach to criminal justice to demonstrate our commitment to racial and economic justice,” said Supervisor Solis. “Closing Men’s Central Jail will restore dignity to our communities. People are not made whole locked up in a decrepit cell. We also recognize that many in our justice-involved population lack access to affordable housing and wraparound services. Providing more permanent supportive housing units where individuals can receive community-based mental health care will give people hope for a new beginning.”
Since March, various County departments and community-based organizations have worked to reduce the number of people in County jails from 17,000 to 12,000 due to COVID-19. Despite this decrease, the population of people with serious mental illness in County jails has only modestly dropped from 5,300 to 4,500, and they now make up nearly half of the incarcerated population.
In recognition of the changing nature of LA County’s jail population and community demands to defund jail systems in favor of investments in community health and safety, Supervisor Solis read in a Board motion at the June 23 Board meeting calling for a plan to close Men’s Central Jail within the year. Today, the Board of Supervisors approved this Board motion, which was authored by Supervisor Solis and co-authored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
“This is another very important step in achieving the Board’s ‘care first, jail last’ approach to community health and safety,” said Supervisor Kuehl. “Given the dramatic reduction in the jail population and the large remaining population of men and women with serious mental illness whose needs would be better met in a treatment environment, it’s time to take a fresh look at our options. I’m confident that the collective expertise of the departments and other stakeholders called upon to collaborate in this motion will help guide the Board as we take our next steps.”
As the County moves ahead with its plan to close Men’s Central Jail, it is also looking to reinvest any savings from closing the facility towards health-based responses that improve both health and public safety outcomes for our communities, such as prioritizing funding for Restorative Care Villages at County health campuses. Restorative Care Villages will offer a comprehensive approach to addressing interrelated issues that lead to domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, unemployment, and homelessness. Today, the Board of Supervisors also approved this Board motion, which was authored by Supervisor Solis and co-authored by Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
Restorative Care Village facilities will serve as a national model in providing non-custodial humane care for our most vulnerable populations. For instance, under Supervisor Solis’ direction, Phase 1 of the Restorative Care Village at LAC+USC Medical Center will also include an Acute Care Hub with 160 beds of bridge housing. There will also be 96 Recuperative Care beds and 64 Crisis Residential Care beds.
Patients to be discharged from LAC+USC, but who lack a safe place to recover will be able to claim one of the Recuperative Care beds. In addition, they will receive case management, mental health care, and substance use disorder services as they transition into bridge housing.
“The Restorative Care Village at LAC+USC will serve tens of thousands of vulnerable patients for generations to come by offering them a safe place to sleep and fully recover from their injury or illness,” said Supervisor Solis. “As we re-invent our systems of care and our approach to public safety, we will invest in our underserved communities. As we take these bold steps, people who need access to mental health care will gain access to those services and will evade ending up entangled in our criminal justice system.”
This is not the first time Supervisor Solis and Supervisor Kuehl have advocated that the County shift away from criminalization and incarceration to support community-based services. In 2019, Supervisor Solis authored a motion, co-authored by Supervisor Kuehl, to cancel a multi-billion dollar contract with McCarthy Building Companies, which was on track to replace Men’s Central Jail with another custodial facility. The Supervisors successfully terminated that contract in favor of prioritizing community-based rehabilitation over punishment.
For more than 15 years, the community has pushed the Board of Supervisors to move away from mass incarceration. Recently, the County and the Sheriff’s Department have agreed that Men’s Central Jail needed to close due to costs related to maintaining the dilapidated facility.
Supervisor Solis’ motion to initiate a plan to close Men’s Central Jail directs the Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative, including the Sheriff’s Department and the Office of Diversion and Reentry, to convene meetings with pertinent County departments, community stakeholders and service providers to provide bi-monthly reports to the Board of Supervisors with updates on issues that must be addressed in order to close the jail within the year. The motion also authorizes the Director of the Department of Health Services to hire a consultant to advise this workgroup.
Further, the motion instructs the County Chief Executive Officer to work with the Sheriff’s Department and other relevant departments to develop a cost savings assessment from the closure of Men’s Central Jail.
In addition, Supervisor Solis’ motion on Restorative Care Village facilities directs the Los Angeles County Development Authority and the County’s Chief Executive Office to fast track studies of all funding needs related to building permanent supportive housing units on County health campuses. The motion on Restorative Care Villages also requires a 14-day report back with recommendations on future No Place Like Home state funding allocations that could expedite Restorative Care Villages at County health campuses.
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