Report Faults L.A. County’s Handling Of Mentally Ill Jail Inmates


Cutting the number of mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles County’s jail system would require spending tens of millions of dollars on new treatment facilities and housing for offenders who would otherwise be released into homelessness, says a task force of public officials and mental health advocates convened by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, the Los Angeles Times reports. “Our approach to this problem [to date] has been really ill-conceived,” Lacey said in an interview. “You don’t imprison someone and say, ‘Don’t be sick anymore.’ People get well when you give them incentives to get help and to be employable…. You give them a life and a place of their own, where they have the freedom to thrive.”

The report was issued as county supervisors are under pressure from federal authorities to improve conditions for mentally ill jail inmates and are wrestling with plans for a new Men’s Central Jail that would be focused on psychiatric treatment. Some supervisors want to downsize the planned facility and had hoped that Lacey’s task force would chart a path to dramatically reducing the number of mentally ill jail inmates. But the panel cautioned that a new approach to mental health issues would not necessarily eliminate or significantly scale down the need for a costly facility to replace the aging downtown jail. “Mental health diversion is not a jail reduction plan,” the report said. It added that the jails are overcrowded now, which has caused some inmates to gain early release, and that a reduction in the population of mentally ill inmates “would enable serious and violent felony offenders who are not mentally ill to serve a longer percentage of their sentences. Such a result would enhance public safety, but would not reduce the need for jail beds.”

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