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LA County: It Will Take 18-24 Months To Close Men’s Central Jail

Activists calling for the closure of Men's Central Jail rallied in downtown L.A. Monday. (Robert Garrova/LAist)

It will take 18-24 months and a large investment in expanded community mental health and substance use services before L.A. County will be able to close its aging Men’s Central Jail (MCJ), according to a report issued today.

The 145-page proposal was prepared by a workgroup led by the County Office of Diversion and Reentry and the Sheriff’s Department, in partnership with community groups and service providers.

It lays out a three-pronged strategy for shutting down the nearly 60-year-old, "unsafe, crowded and crumbling" jail:

  • Redistribute the MCJ population to other jails;
  • Invest “significantly” in beds and services within the community;
  • Divert some 4,500 people with mental health issues out of jail (roughly the number of people being held at MCJ).

The proposal cites a 2020 RAND study which found that “an estimated 61 percent of the jail mental health population were likely appropriate candidates for diversion,” which would account for roughly 3,600 individuals. The rest would have to be found among those with mental health issues who had committed more serious crimes.

The report recommends adding 3,600 beds for community-based mental health care and some 400 beds for “individuals with serious medical, [substance use disorder] and/or housing needs” within the next two years.

It does not put a price tag on the overall effort, although it points out that it will be “particularly challenging” figuring out how to pay for it, given “the unprecedented housing and budget crises exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The report mentions some possible funding sources — including Measure J (which requires at least 10% of the county’s unrestricted budget be directed to addressing racial injustice through community investment) and a proposed state pilot project that would divert people found incompetent to stand trial -- that could help make the MCJ closure a reality.

Using Measure J funds makes sense, said Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson, founder of the Frontline Wellness Network:

“The first step is to make sure that we make due on the funding streams that we know are designed to do this very thing and to invest in our communities. Measure J is one of those funding streams.”

County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis said in a press release they want to explore using $237 million of the federal coronavirus relief package to help pay for the expanded services.

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Oscar Producers Re-Write ‘No Zoom’ Rules

An Oscar statue at the 91st Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP)

Yes, more and more people are getting vaccinated.

And it’s true that travelers are returning to airports.

Ever so slowly, life is returning to something vaguely resembling normal.

But some Oscar nominees still remain nervous about attending the ceremony - and now the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is backing off its “show up in person or don’t show up at all” mandate.

When they recently laid out details for this year’s pandemic-delayed Academy Awards, the ceremony’s producers didn’t hedge: you had to show up. No Zooming in.

Now that Oscar script is getting a re-write. And while the academy isn’t abandoning its push for in-person attendance, it is modifying how nominees can join the party from afar.

The overarching goal is to broadcast the proceedings using motion picture-quality cameras. For those who can’t get to Los Angeles, the academy will use more than 20 overseas and domestic broadcast facilities so nominees won’t be appearing from their living rooms. Outside of that, the academy will offer just a limited number of Zoom links.

For the nominees headed to the actual show, the academy is hoping local quarantine rules for travellers will be shortened.

The ceremony will be staged at downtown’s Union Station and the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on April 25th.

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Getting Out of Jail Just Got Easier — Here's Why

FILE: Signs advertise bail bond companies next to the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in 2018. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Its not quite a get out of jail free card. But a California Supreme Court ruling that says its unconstitutional to keep someone behind bars merely because they can't make bail is likely going to dramatically reduce bail for some and eliminate it entirely for others.

The court said there must be clear and convincing evidence someone is a threat to public safety or a flight risk before ordering they post bail. And in that case, the amount must be affordable to the defendant. The justices left open the question of defining a threat to public safety, meaning county judges will have wide discretion.

The landmark ruling stops short of eliminating cash bail and keeps in place the ability to detain people in jail without bail for the most serious crimes.

L.A. District Attorney George Gascón praised the ruling, as did the California Bail Agents Association, which called the decision "fair to all sides."


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USC And UCLA Men’s Basketball Teams Advance To The Elite 8

David Singleton #34 of the UCLA Bruins celebrates with Kenneth Nwuba #14 and Mac Etienne #12 after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide 88-78 in overtime (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

The UCLA and USC men's basketball teams will play in the Elite Eight, taking each team one step closer to the NCAA Division I championships.

This marks the first time both teams have made it this far in the same tournament.

In an overtime upset on Sunday, the UCLA Bruins beat the University of Alabama Crimson Tide with a score of 88-78. The UCLA men's basketball program has a storied history, but they have not made it to the Elite Eight since 2008.

Meanwhile, the USC Trojans’ 82-68 Sunday win over their Pac-12 rival, the University of Oregon Ducks, brings them to their first Elite Eight since 2001.

On Tuesday, UCLA faces the University of Michigan Wolverines and USC plays the Gonzaga University Bulldogs.

Gonzaga is favored to win the entire NCAA college basketball tournament.

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A Bank Without Penalties And Fees? An Assembly Bill Aims To Help Low-Income Californians

(Courtesy of Shutterstock)

Millions of low-income Californians might be able to bank free of penalties and fees if state lawmakers approve the latest attempt to create public banking.

AB 1177 would form a state-supported public bank board, which would partner with private banks to offer the free accounts. The program would be called "BankCal."

"If a rich person earns money, that money makes money," said State Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-LA), the bill's author. "When a poor person earns money, that money is gouged from every corner you could possibly get it. You get gouged when you go to payday lendings, you get gouged at the banks. You get gouged on every transaction and every fee."

The California Public Banking Alliance sponsored the measure. Co-founder Trinity Tran said the bill would help bridge the racial wealth in underserved communities:

"Because when poor folks have to pay for their financial services, that means they have fewer opportunities to grow credit, they're rejected for loans, and that all amounts to a real disadvantage for millions of families."

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill in 2019 to allow independent municipalities to create their own public banks, but this would create a state-backed banking system.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that previous California bills allowing public banking option failed. Actually, Newsom signed a bill years ago to allow independent municipalities to create their own public banks.

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More LA County Businesses — Including Bars — Will Reopen As Region Enters Orange Tier

The Gold Line bar in Highland Park. (Courtesy of The Gold Line Bar)

L.A. County will soon be out of the red and into the orange tier of the state's coronavirus reopening framework.

State health officials updated their data today and L.A. County's test positivity rate, case rates, and health equity metrics now meet the requirements to move into the less restrictive orange tier on Monday.

The move allows for higher capacity limits at businesses, churches, gyms, and restaurants. Bars could reopen for the first time for outdoor service only.

County officials still get the final say on whether and when the red tier restrictions will be eased.

Orange County also qualified to enter the orange tier, according to state data.

Here are some of the orange tier details:

  • Retail stores would not have to limit attendance.
  • Churches, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums could expand attendance to 50% of capacity. Restaurants could expand indoor dining to 50%.
  • Wineries could offer indoor service at 25%, and bars that don't serve food could reopen outdoors.
  • Gyms and fitness centers could expand to 25% of capacity, and family entertainment centers could offer indoor attractions such as bowling.

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Morning Brief: Your Vaccine Questions, A Return To Elementary School, And Beachfront Drive-ins

Signs painted on the windows of a coin laundry in South Los Angeles. (Chava Sanchez)

Good morning, L.A. It’s March 30.

Every day, our newsroom’s call-in show, AirTalk, welcomes a physician to answer listeners’ questions about COVID-19 and the vaccine. Earlier this week, host Larry Mantle spoke with Dr. Annabelle de St. Maurice, an assistant professor of pediatrics and the co-chief infection prevention officer at UCLA/Mattel Children’s hospital. Here are some of the questions she got, and her answers (the conversation has been edited for length and clarity):

I know this isn't definitive, but it appears extremely unlikely that people who have been fully vaccinated will transfer the virus to someone who was unvaccinated.

Yes, it’s really great news. At the end of the day, what we want is to prevent our hospitalizations and deaths, and we know that the vaccines really do prevent that. But we also know that there are some people who might not be able to get vaccinated, so we want to be sure that those who are vaccinated aren't able to transmit the virus, or even have the virus in their nose or their respiratory tract.

I'm a nursing mom, and I've been vaccinated. Are there any studies on whether the antibodies passed through to my infant or not?

Yes, actually, there's a very exciting study that just came out and was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology on this very subject. And they did see that there was immune transfer to their infants, both from the placenta and from breastfeeding. So this is all very good news.

I teach at a high school currently in a hybrid model, and it's looking to go back into full classroom population. Is it prudent for 15- to 18-year-olds to be in high density classrooms?

It really depends on the actions that the school is taking, whether or not they are spacing those high school students out, if they're requiring masks, if they looked at their air handling systems to make sure that they have been updated. All of these things need to be in place in order to make sure it's safe. But with following those precautions, that really does reduce the risk substantially.

On April 15th, vaccine eligibility will expand to everyone aged 16 and older. Do you have any advice on getting an appointment?

My advice is that as soon as you get an appointment, just take it, regardless of which vaccine is being offered, unless you have an allergic contraindication to one of the vaccines. The other suggestion is, they are offering vaccines to [people] who volunteer at the vaccination sites. Some of the sites might have vaccines left over at the end of the day. You just have to talk to friends and family members and neighbors to figure out if they have any tips in your community, because it might really vary.

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and stay safe out there.

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What Else You Need To Know Today

  • Days after USC announced an $852 million settlement to sexual abuse lawsuits against its former campus gynecologist, officials are worried about the impact of the news on Asian and Asian American students on campus.
  • Los Angeles County says it shouldn’t be a target of a big federal lawsuit over the local homelessness crisis.
  • Many elementary students in L.A. County will start returning to campuses this week.

Before You Go … This Week’s Outdoor Pick: Beachfront Drive-Ins

A Rooftop Cinema Club outdoor drive-in. (Courtesy Rooftop Cinema Club)

The 36th edition of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival offers hybrid viewing, including beachfront drive-ins. The opening night film is Aaron Maurer's documentary Invisible Valley, which weaves together stories of undocumented farmworkers, wealthy snowbirds, and music festival-goers in the Coachella Valley.

Also happening this week: Amoeba Records returns. Magic Mountain reopens. A bunch of museums welcome visitors. The casts and creatives of Lovecraft Country, The Queen's Gambit and Ted Lasso lead PaleyFest LA. Trans and nonbinary authors discuss Shakespeare. The Easter Bunny brings pastel donuts. And more.

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