COUNTY SUPERVISORS PLAN TO RELEASE THOUSANDS OF INMATES FROM MENS CENTRAL JAIL
By Joseph P. Charney
When the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors votes this Tuesday to expedite the leveling of Men’s Central Jail (MCJ) with the intent not to replace it with one that could adequately treat inmates with mental illness, it continues on a reckless path that ignores justice for victims, public safety, and inmate welfare.
Inmates suffering from serious mental illness are now housed in Twin Towers, a facility that the Department of Justice has deemed deficient in providing required inmate mental health care. Nevertheless, the Board of Supervisors continues to ignore its obligation to build an adequate custodial facility that conforms to Constitutional requirements. If such a new facility were constructed, inmates presently residing in MCJ could be transferred to Twin Towers, and those suffering from mental illness could receive far better care at the newly constructed facility.
Unfortunately, this Board has demonstrated time and again, a callous disregard of justice for victims and community safety when it assumes that MCJ can be safely and responsibly shuttered without a replacement for the thousands of inmates that would have to be transferred. The motion by Supervisors Kuehl and Solis incorporates a barrage of unsubstantiated claims related to “alternatives to incarceration”, none of which are supported by investigation or facts. This is an irresponsible rejection of recommendations given to the Board by expert consultants for more than a decade.
The proponents of the motion claim that most of those housed in MCJ can be “diverted” to non-custodial facilities and those inmates charged with murder, rape, robbery and violent assaults can be safely “treated” in a “Restorative Village Model.” The motion contains pages of obfuscation, where inmates are turned into “vulnerable populations,” and a custodial facility can be replaced by an imaginary “community-based system of care.” If you search the entire motion you will not find the words, “crime victim” anywhere. The authors of the motion play to their “justice advocates,” to a “defund the police mantra”, and a growing delusion that we don’t need jails at all. They join newly-elected District Attorney George Gascon, who also hides behind make-believe “studies” that claim less incarceration equals more community safety while he attacks police and prosecutors as promoting a racist, oppressive system.
The most reckless part of the motion is its attempt to shut down any future analysis that might undermine this Board’s decision to close MCJ and not replace it at all. Supervisors Kuehl and Solis have concluded “there is no further need to study, establish workgroups, or even develop further recommendations to reduce the County’s reliance on incarceration.”
To seal the deal, Item 27 concludes that all the issues have been resolved and the jail should be closed as soon as possible. The conclusion that additional debate is not needed, reveals an ideologically-driven motion, one that would prohibit any analysis or argument. It assumes that a safe alternative to a custodial facility can be provided. Communities across the County should demand the Board present more than theoretical alternatives to incarceration. County residents must be made aware of the percentage of those residing in MCJ who have committed violent or serious crimes. The Board must specify where individuals committing such crimes could be safely housed in the absence of MCJ or another jail. Over the past five years, how many sentenced inmates who committed serious and violent crimes have been successfully diverted? Why should County residents be comfortable with demolishing MCJ without getting a full report from the LA County Sheriff of the impact such an action would have on undermining public safety?
The County continues to ignore the suffering, death, and mental illness experienced by those living and dying on our streets. Tragically the County is not Constitutionally-required to protect this vulnerable group and as a result cannot be forced to do so. However, the County is Constitutionally required to care for the medical and mental health needs of those incarcerated in its facilities. Twin Towers cannot provide that care. As a result, the Board’s intention to remove a jail and not replace it with one that can dispense adequate mental health services is reckless, shortsighted and will inevitably lead to costly litigation. The County cannot level MCJ without an adequate replacement and pretend that this will not impact the safety and welfare of Angelenos — It certainly will.