Los Angeles County May Forgo Jail Project to Focus on Mental Health

Los Angeles County may make important changes to how it handles individuals in the criminal justice system. There was a $1.7 billion contract in place to build a new jail to replace Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Although all parties agree that the dungeon-like downtown jail is in need of replacement, the county had other priorities in mind. In August 2019, county executives voted to cancel the contract with McCarthy Building Co. and to focus on building a new facility that will have a greater focus on mental health services.

Mental Health in Jail

It is a cliché that county jails across the country have become de facto mental health facilities. Many individuals with mental health issues find themselves tied up in the criminal justice system. However, county jails don’t always have the resources and the treatment that these individuals need.

Los Angeles County’s policy shifts away from a large centralized jail to a focus on mental health. The county’s jail system currently houses around 17,000 inmates, about a third of whom receive some form of mental health treatment. This shift in philosophy recognizes the changing dynamics of the criminal justice system.

The current plan is still in the planning stages, but the county is hoping to build a new facility called the Mental Health Treatment Center. Rather than being run by the Sheriff’s Office which is responsible for the county’s jails, the new facility would be run by the county’s Department of Mental Health. The facility would focus on rehabilitation and use the services of a limited number of deputies for security. The ultimate plan hasn’t been finalized, and the idea of a number of smaller mental health facilities is still on the table.

Some members of the community feel that the new facility is just another glorified jail. They believe that the county’s money could be better put to use establishing community services, housing programs, reentry programs, and alternative treatment options. Diverting individuals with mental health issues away from the criminal justice system may reduce the need for another facility.

If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.

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