Los Angeles officials are launching an alternative sentencing program aimed at diverting mentally ill, low-level offenders from jail into treatment, a project they hope will signal a dramatic shift for the county’s criminal justice system, the Los Angeles Times reports. The $756,000 initiative marks one of the county’s most significant attempts to find a better way to treat people who have mental illness and wind up in the criminal justice system by offering them transitional housing, medical treatment and job-hunting help.
Officials say the pilot program will initially help 50 people at a time, but it is expected to spread throughout the county and could accommodate up to 1,000 people at once. The program is designed to reduce jail overcrowding and end a revolving door for offenders with mental illness who find themselves incarcerated for relatively minor crimes. “It is time to stop bouncing people who are mentally ill and genuinely sick between the streets and our jails,” said District Attorney Jackie Lacey. “This is an unconscionable waste of human life and money.” Lacey and other officials, including county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and City Attorney Mike Feuer, announced the plan to give nonviolent felony defendants arrested for crimes like marijuana possession, resisting police and car theft the chance to complete an 18-month program. Those who complete the treatment and any court-imposed probation will have their pending criminal charges cleared from their records.