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Criminal Justice

New LA Program To Divert Certain Low-Level Arrestees Away From Jail And Into Treatment

A view through a chain link fence of Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles
Men's Central Jail in downtown L.A.
(Andrew Cullen for LAist)
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This week L.A. County launched a pilot program that aims to divert certain people arrested for low-level crimes away from the jail system and into treatment.

People with a mental illness or a substance use disorder or who are unhoused will be eligible for the program if they’re arrested for certain misdemeanors and non-violent felonies and headed for processing at LAPD’s 77th Street Regional Jail.

Instead of having charges filed against them, they will be connected with someone from the nonprofit Special Service for Groups’ Project 180. Staff from that group will be present around the clock at the 77th Street station to do assessments and find services and housing for people who qualify.

“The idea is to give people as many off-ramps throughout the entire process — as humanly possible and as early as possible — that they land back into a safe community for them and their families,” said Ret. Judge Songhai Armstead, executive director of LA County’s Alternatives to Incarceration Office, which is overseeing the pilot.

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She said L.A.’s District Attorney and City Attorney jointly came up with the list of charges that would be suitable for diversion. Those who commit a serious offense, such as a violent felony, or who have a prior serious offense, will be ineligible for the program.

Judge Armstead said she sees the pilot as one step towards addressing the over-incarceration of unhoused people and those living with a substance use or mental health disorder.

L.A. County Jail's mental health population has reached more than 6,000, the highest it's ever been.

The plan is to expand the program to nine additional police and sheriff’s stations throughout L.A. County, with the Long Beach and Pomona Police Departments expected to join the effort this summer.

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Robert Garrova is reporting on the intersection of mental health and law enforcement.