LOS ANGELES, CA-  For years, Los Angeles County has worked towards modernizing its approach to criminal justice, but this effort lacked the data needed to properly right-size this project and ensure that resources were allocated properly. On February 12, 2019, the LA County Board of Supervisors authorized a Design-Build contract with McCarthy Building Companies for a custody facility called the Mental Health Treatment Center to replace Men’s Central Jail. However, it has become clear that LA County does not yet have the data needed to design a modern, right-sized criminal justice system that includes decentralized, community-based mental health treatment options to fully realize needed diversion and prevention efforts, to improve outcomes and reduce the County’s reliance on its jail system. In response, today the Board of Supervisors approved a motion authored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, and co-authored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, that cancels the contract with McCarthy Building Companies. The Board of Supervisors also approved a second motion authored by Supervisor Solis, and co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, that orders comprehensive reports to develop a more complete picture of the health needs of the justice-involved and non-justice involved populations to determine LA County’s concrete next steps for possibilities for expanding diversion and treatment efforts countywide.

“Mental health care cannot be provided effectively within a custody environment and we must be focused on a ‘care first, jail last’ model. Men’s Central Jail must be demolished, but we must replace it within a criminal justice system that includes a modern, decentralized countywide continuum of non-custody community-based care facilities,” said Supervisor Solis. “Before we move forward with building an expensive new jail, we must address the mental and physical health needs of our jail population, many of whom can be safely diverted to community-based treatment facilities, which have better outcomes, and thereby increase public safety. Today’s cancellation of the McCarthy contract creates an opportunity to begin to move in a new direction, towards this ‘care first, jail last’ model, by first collecting essential data and greater community input.”

On February 12, 2019, the County Departments of Health Services, Mental Health, and Public Health, were directed to develop a design for the Mental Health Treatment Center (MHTC), informed by all the leading research and information on mental health challenges experienced by those that come most in contact with law enforcement. The design was to support a treatment-first approach with the goal of diversion to community-based mental health treatment wherever possible. Moreover, the Health Departments and CEO were directed to include options to right-size the scale and scope of the MHTC. Also at this meeting, the Board approved the McCarthy contract for the MHTC project by a 3-2 vote, with Supervisor Solis voting no.

The report back from the Health Departments was returned to the Board with three options for right-sizing the MHTC project. It also included information from the Department of Public Works that this new “care first” model would require more changes than the contract allows for. Therefore, the cancellation of the McCarthy contract was found to be necessary.

The Health Departments report discusses the numerous factors the Health Departments considered, many of which are still being further developed. These factors include demographics, trends in criminal justice, changes in treatment modalities, capacity limitations in the State Hospital system, and the impact of diversion programs focused on people with mental health needs, as well as those struggling with addiction or with chronic illness. The Board of Supervisors is awaiting the outcome of several studies over the next several months on potential diversion numbers and the associated numbers and costs of treatment beds and needed services, numbers of people who may be eligible for pretrial release, and recommendations from the Alternatives to Incarceration Workgroup.

“I am pleased by the bold direction that this Board of Supervisors has taken in committing fully to a truly ‘care first’ model,” continued Supervisor Solis. “I am thankful that additional information and community advocacy in the past several months has brought us to this important realization. I look forward to reviewing the data we need to ensure that we deliver an appropriate project that is grounded in facts, community input, and a primary focus on diversion and rehabilitation, rather than punishment and incarceration.”

As a result of the second jail-related motion by Supervisor Solis today, the Board ordered reports on:

  • The anticipated number of beds and placement types needed to support a decentralized continuum of community-based treatment
  • The anticipated number of residential beds needed to accommodate those who may be able to be diverted from the criminal justice system
  • Assessing all reports and studies related to criminal justice reform, diversion, alternatives to incarceration, and systems of care
  • A plan for siting the expanded capacity needed for the decentralized continuum of community-based treatment and residential beds, including consideration of acquiring beds from hospitals, treatment facilities, and other community-based settings, including construction siting options on available County lots or non-County lots of buildings available for acquisition, as well as identifying potential funding sources
  • Options to reduce or eliminate the need to build additional custody capacity while still allowing for the demolition of Men’s Central Jail, including recommendations to reducing the size of the overall criminal justice population

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Contact: Michael Kapp, Communications Director, mkapp@bos.lacounty.gov or 213-974-4111