On June 22, 2021, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to implement the closure of the Men’s Central Jail.
Supervisor Kathyrn Barger cast the single dissenting vote. She warned that the county doesn’t have enough treatment resources to adequately help inmates battling addiction or mental illness.
Kate Cagle, filling in for “Inside the Issues” host Alex Cohen, spoke with LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell about where things stand now.
“The action that we took really created the opportunity for the Jail Closure Implementation Team to give us both a timeline, which they said was 18 to 24 months, and really set a series of goals,” Mitchell said.
Men’s Central Jail is one of the oldest county jails in California. It was built in 1963 and currently houses just under 14,500 inmates, according to Micthell. She said in order to close the jail, the population needs to get down to 8,500 people.
“We need to talk about diversion. We need to talk about the pretrial issue,” Mitchell said. “And we need to talk about where we’re going to place the 80% of that population who suffer from mental illness.”
Right now, there is no timeline for the closure.
“We don’t have a specific timeline. But we do have a roadmap, a roadmap that’s really guiding the county’s ‘care first, jails last’ commitment,” Michell said.
The LA County Sheriff’s Department runs the jail, and Sheriff Alex Villanueva is fighting back. He’s taking legal action against the Board of Supervisors to keep the jail open.
In March, the sheriff told Spectrum News he would not support shutting down Men’s Central Jail without a suitable alternative.
Mitchell said the county does not have the community infrastructure to turn the carceral system into a rehabilitative system overnight.
“We have to build community-based capacity in real time… that can handle the population that Men’s Central Jail currently houses,” she said.
The jail has been plagued with recent problems, including cramped conditions and inmate deaths.
On Aug. 26, a former sheriff’s custody assistant pleaded no contest for attempting to smuggle meth into the jail back in 2018.
Mitchell agrees that there are serious issues at the jail, calling some of the conditions “deplorable.” She said the issue is finding a way to transition people out as quickly as possible while also improving the conditions currently in the jail.
“We are coming up with solutions, both short term and long term, to provide immediate relief in the current jail while we are planning for its ultimate closure and the transition of people into more humane conditions.”
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