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LA County Will Study Closing Men's Central Jail Within A Year

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Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail in downtown L.A. (Andrew Cullen for LAist)
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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted today to study how to close Men’s Central Jail within a year, taking the latest step in a long struggle over the future of the dilapidated facility.

Originally the county was going to replace the aging jail with a new one at a cost of over $2 billion; in the face of pressure from reform advocates, the supervisors scrapped that plan in Feb. 2019, voting to tear the jail down and replace it with a large mental health facility or a series of smaller ones.

The idea behind closing the jail is to continue to reduce L.A. County’s “historic reliance on its jail system to meet its residents’ health and service-related needs,” according to the motion, which was introduced by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl. Today's move comes amid a national reckoning over systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

The supervisors had already adopted a “care first, jails last” approach, centered on the idea that the county should focus on diverting people with mental health and addiction problems away from jail and into treatment.

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The motion calls for the county to take the money saved by closing the facility and invest it in care-based programs in the county’s underserved communities.

The supervisors also ordered an analysis of how to move inmates to the county’s six other jail facilities and the impact that could have. The first report back is due in 60 days.

Men’s Central Jail (MCJ), which is run by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, has long been considered one of the worst jail facilities in the U.S. According to the motion:

“It has been well-documented over at least the last 25 years ... that MCJ’s flawed design and infrastructure contribute greatly to the county’s inability to provide appropriate medical and mental health care, programming, recreation, and humane living conditions.”

Ahead of the board’s vote, Sheriff Alex Villanueva voiced his opposition to the plan on Twitter, arguing that it would reduce his department’s ability to jail violent offenders.
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The JusticeLA Coalition, a jail reform group, celebrated the vote, tweeting, “Now we invest in alternatives to incarceration and #carenotcages!”

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