When it comes to Los Angeles County’s decrepit Men’s Central Jail, building a better future doesn’t have to mean spending $2 billion to erect a replacement structure that would continue to house huge numbers of mentally ill inmates accused of low-level, non-violent crimes.
Two months ago, as the only member of the Board of Supervisors to vote against moving forward on this massive, publicly-financed construction plan, I argued that we must first fully investigate the opportunities for diverting low-risk members of this population into community-based treatment programs.
My reasoning was simple: if we can find more humane and effective treatment outside jail cells for these mentally ill individuals, then we might be able to scale back the size and cost of the proposed new downtown jail. At the same time, we might also be able to make our neighborhoods safer by reducing the high rate of recidivism typically associated with mentally ill offenders. They stand little chance of achieving lasting recovery inside an oppressive and teeming jail environment where they have been chained to tables during therapy sessions and victimized not only by fellow inmates but by some sheriff’s deputies who run the operation.