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Mental health jail or mental health hospital? LA County Board of Supervisors to vote on county jail replacement

Los Angeles, UNITED STATES:  The Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, 10 September 2006 which has been under lockdown due to inmate rioting.  Sheriff's officials acknowledge that they have been overwhelmed by a week's worth of violence in Los Angeles County jails which has left one inmate dead at Pitchess North County Correctional Facility, and at least 28 hospitalized and nearly 90 injured at Pitchess' and other Los Angeles County jail facilities. Violence has continued at Pitchess in Castaic as well as at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.  AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck  (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
The Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, 10 September 2006.

There's general agreement that the aging Men's Central Jail in downtown L.A. needs to be torn down.

There's general agreement that the aging Men's Central Jail in downtown L.A. needs to be torn down.

The plumbing often doesn't work, vermin infestations are not uncommon and the design with long rows of cells leaves deputies vulnerable to attack. The question is: what should replace the 1963 concrete fortress?

On Tuesday, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors is set to provide an answer. It's considering a few options:

  • Replace the jail with a lockup tailored to provide better care to mentally ill inmates

  • Build a mental health treatment center instead of a jail

  • Put the whole thing off and study how to divert more people with mental health problems out of the criminal justice system

Until recently, many believed the project to build a new jail was a done deal. It was pitched to be a 3,885-bed facility "primarily designed for the treatment of different acuities of medical and/or mental illness or substance abuse disorders," according to acounty website that explains the project.

Now, there's fierce debate over whether it's the right way to go, given that the county is in the middle of attempting to transform how it deals with mentally ill people who commit crimes - many of whom are homeless. About one-third of all jail inmates have some sort of mental illness and one-quarter need special housing - an estimated 5,100 in all.

To read more, click here.

We reached out to Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas and Supervisor Janice Hahn. We also reached out to the LA Sheriff’s Department. The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs was not able to join because of timing.


Frank Stoltze, KPCC’s criminal justice and public safety correspondent 

Sheila Kuehl, Los Angeles County Supervisor representing District 3, which stretches from the ocean to Los Feliz, and from Venice up to San Fernando

Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California

Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Association, which represents about 9,000 county law enforcement professionals, including those who work in the Men's Central Jail 

Mark Ridley-Thomas, Los Angeles County Supervisor representing District 2, which encompasses parts of the Westside, including Culver City, and the Eastside, including Carson and Compton

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