A task force was created to map out a pathway to close the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail (MCJ) by July 2021, according to the Los Angeles Sentinel.
One analysis is the county would need to transfer prisoners to other county jails and fund sufficient community-based services to support diversion programs for mentally ill offenders, according to Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl in a last-year proposed motion, reported Elizabeth Marcellino, City News Service, in the Nov. 5, 2020 Sentinel.
“I don’t know that we can get to a level where we can close this facility without a replacement,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that not everyone can be diverted. Those who remain in custody are worthy of meaningful treatment.”
The MCJ was built in 1963 and houses roughly 4,000 of the nearly 13,000 individuals held in the L.A. County jail system, stated the article.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the Board of Supervisors noted the old jail is not suited to house prisoners, especially those with mental health is-sues. Also the sheriff believes cutting the jail population without building another facility would threaten public safety, said the article.
“Information about medical, mental health, sub-stance-use disorder and other specific needs is critical to understand as the committees consider where certain services and programs can be provided to meet those needs as MJC closes,” said the report.
Debates rage about building a large-scale mental health jail versus civil rights advocates wanting better smaller community-based substance-abuse and mental health centers.
“The need for a jail facility in the downtown area is a key factor in the local criminal justice system,” said Tab Rhodes, president of the Los Angeles County Peace Officers Association. “Men’s Central Jail is needed at this point to provide wraparound services that deal with rehabilitation not currently available at other remote jail facilities in the county: ease of visits … specific housing for high-security concerns and centralized access to the downtown courts,” he added.
Racial equity has also been a part of the closure debate and plan. Pre-COVID there was an increase of both Black men and women in the county jail system. Black people represented 29% of the jailed population before COVID, but after COVID their numbers increased to 31%, while incarcerated Whites dropped from 15% to 12%, according to the article.
An overall population drop occurred with an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus within the jail, but the population has in-creased again since resuming court and custody practices, said the report.
“A higher proportion of White and Hispanic/Latinx people and a lower proportion of Black people were released early compared to their representation in the jail population,” the report concluded.
The task force is scheduled to release an update on the closure this year.