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Report Released on State Funding Options for LA Jail and Diversion

HMG-CN Political Wire

Advocates call for an immediate halt to new jail and more investment in services

SACRAMENTO, CA – Today, the Department of Finance released their AB 1468 report (http://www.dof.ca.gov/budget/historical/2015-16/documents/AB-1468_Report-WEB.pdf), which   outlines four options for the state to assist Los Angeles County with its mental health infrastructure needs as it plans to replace Men’s Central Jail.

The report highlights that “the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted on August 5, 2014 to replace the existing 5,100 Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles assuming the replacement facility would have 5,000 beds with as many as 3,500 mental health beds. The project is estimated to cost between $1.7 and $2.2 billion depending on the number of mental health beds included.” The report suggests that the high cost of the replacement project would lead the County to issue bonds for jail construction.

“The choice is clear, LA can choose to fund unnecessary, costly jail expansion, or they can choose to build up the infrastructure required for vital community-based services to flourish, and provide resources for all those in need,” said Diana Zuñiga, Statewide Organizer for Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “We have two new county supervisors, a new sheriff, and the community support needed to shift LA’s addiction to incarceration.” Zuñiga continues “Jails do not solve social problems such as unemployment, homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness. We need solutions that prioritize job security, permanent housing, substance abuse, and health services that support those most vulnerable in our communities, mainly Black and Brown people.”

The four options in the report include: 1)  the appropriation of General Fund for a number of years to help LA meet its debt service payment for jail construction; 2) to provide financial assistance to LA’s efforts to expand its mental health diversion programs; 3) to give additional funding for a Mentally Ill Offender Crime Reduction (MIOCR) Grant targeted to the County; and 4) to create a collaborative corrections program between the state and LA County to make the system more efficient.

“LA again has the opportunity to shift priorities from over-incarceration towards rehabilitation,” said Mark Faucette, Chair of the Los Angeles Regional Re-entry Partnership. “Allocating funding for treatment and support for people experiencing mental illness and substance-use disorder holds the promise of reducing recidivism and increasing public safety.”

Additionally, the report highlights significant recent changes to LA’s criminal justice landscape. Since the approval of the jail plan, District Attorney Lacey has stepped forward as an advocate for mental health diversion and leads a task force focused on diverting at least 1,000 people away from jails.  The report says there are approximately 17,400 people in the LA jail system, of which 900 beds will be saved due to credit earnings; 6,600 have been successfully diverted into community-based alternative custody programs; and at least 4,200 people will be funneled into transitional programs.

California’s overwhelming passage of Prop. 47, especially by Angelenos at 64.3%, was widely recognized as a mandate from California voters to further reduce incarceration.

“LA is finally implementing parole and sentencing reform measures, along with diversion programs that are having a drastic impact on the number of people locked-up in LA.” Christina Tsao of LA No More Jails explains. The report predicts significant reductions to the jail population due to split sentencing enacted in last year’s budget, as well as the passage of Prop. 47. Officials in LA have estimated an annual reduction of 2,500 in the jail population. Tsao continues, “This report validates what those of us in LA have been saying all along: continue to safely reduce the jail population and invest in the alternatives to incarceration that will make the ‘need’ for a new jail obsolete. ”