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L.A. County Supervisors Mull Alternatives to Incarceration

Studies have shown that 61% of Los Angeles County Jail's population with mental-health needs could be safely diverted into community-based treatment. (Public Domain Pictures/Pixabay)
Studies have shown that 61% of Los Angeles County Jail's population with mental-health needs could be safely diverted into community-based treatment. (Public Domain Pictures/Pixabay)
March 10, 2020

LOS ANGELES -- Jails and prisons across California are moving toward alternatives to incarceration, and today the LA County Board of Supervisors will vote on reforms laid out in a new working group report.

The report's first recommendation is to expand programs for emergency psychiatric care and restorative justice that address underlying issues. Kent Mendoza, policy manager with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, said our justice system should be less punitive and more concerned with rehabilitation.

"The way you hold people accountable is by actually helping them change," Mendoza said. "So when they come home, they're better than they were when they went in."

The push for alternatives to incarceration sprang out of the movement to stop the county from pouring billions into new jails, and use the funds to instead help people stay out of the criminal justice system in the first place.

The LA County Jail system is the largest in the country, holding more than 17,000 people. More than 30% need mental-health services and 60% suffer from substance-abuse disorders.

The report also called for programs better tailored to addressing the needs of LGBTQ people in the system. Mendoza said no one should be housed where they may not be safe, especially transgender people.

"They're always in a category where they are a target to other inmates," he said. "They have to navigate through a whole different type of drama while being in the jail."

A bill currently before the state Assembly, SB 132, would require that transgender people be housed according to their gender identity and not their sex assigned at birth.

Other recommendations in the report include prioritizing behavioral health responses over a law-enforcement approach and improving pretrial release and diversion services to help people get back on their feet.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA