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Criminal Justice

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

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

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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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