In recognition of the changing nature of Los Angeles County’s jail population and community demands to defund jail systems in favor of investments in community health and safety, today Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis read in a Board motion, which was co-authored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, that calls for a plan to close Men’s Central Jail within the year.
“As our jail population has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also seen a Countywide decrease in crime, which is a sign for all of us: we must divert funding away from jails and invest in community-based mental health treatment and services,” said Supervisor Solis. “As we continue to prioritize our ‘care first, jail last’ approach to criminal justice, we must seek humane solutions that allow people to receive community-based mental-health care. No one heals locked up alone in a cell. Closing Men’s Central Jail will restore dignity in our residents’ healing process and will advance calls for needed reforms.”
For more than 15 years, the community has pushed the Board of Supervisors to take a different stance and move away from its overreliance on mass incarceration, as well as address the unsanitary conditions at Men’s Central Jail. Recently, the County and the Sheriff’s Department have agreed that Men’s Central Jail needed to close due to costs related to maintaining a decrepit jail.
“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.”
To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, thousands of nonviolent people in custody were released early from County jails to open up space to allow people to practice physical distancing and quarantine while in custody. Many of those released early were low-income individuals who could not pay bail and had not yet been charged with a crime.
Since March, various County departments and community-based organizations have worked to decrease 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 now makes up nearly half of the incarcerated population. With only 12,000 people in custody, this marks the first time in at least 15 years that the number of people in LA County’s jail system is below the 12,404 capacity. On June 9, the Board unanimously approved a motion to develop a plan to maintain the jail population below the state-rated capacity, once the pandemic subsides.
This is not the first time Supervisor Solis and Supervisor Kuehl have addressed the County’s need to shift away from criminalization and incarceration. 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, however, successfully scrapped that contract in order to prioritize community-based rehabilitation over punishment.
Supervisor Solis’ read-in motion 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 on issues that must be addressed in order to close Men’s Central Jail within the year.
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 as a result of closing Men’s Central Jail. Supervisor Solis read in her motion today, and the Board of Supervisors will vote on the motion at its next virtual Board meeting on July 7.
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