Local-government officials, civil-rights activists and mental-health experts around the country differ on how best to handle criminal offenders with addiction and mental-health problems, says the Wall Street Journal. Some leaders argue in favor of treatment within corrections systems, for reasons of public safety and to fulfill constitutional mandates to care for incarcerated offenders. Others say nonviolent offenders should be redirected into community-based treatment, through so-called diversion programs. Jail-based treatment, they argue, is more expensive, less effective in remedying inmates’ problems and can encourage people to re-offend in hopes of getting help.
Last week, amid protests from mental-health experts and civil-rights activists, Los Angeles County officials gave their backing to in-house treatment. The county board of supervisors approved a $2 billion plan—one of its most expensive contracts—to replace its Men’s Central Jail with a facility that would contain nearly 3,700 beds for inmates with mental-health and drug problems. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich said, “By moving forward with a new state-of-the-art detention facility, [this] action advances our efforts to protect public safety.” Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who oversees the jail system, said replacing the downtown jail will help her department meet its obligations to the federal government and avoid litigation. “If the courts take over, we’ll be spending a lot of money on litigation and monitors,” not treatment she said.