Today the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on a motion to establish a new office to advance the County’s call for a “care first, jails last” system that would provide care and treatment instead of jail whenever possible. The vote was preceded by a report and recommendations presented by Dr. Robert Ross, President and CEO of The California Endowment, who chaired the Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group which developed the report.
The “Care First, Jails Last” report is the result of an intensive year-long process that involved an unprecedented collaboration among County officials, community leaders, and system-impacted individuals including those who have been incarcerated. Its recommendations build on the success of a number of County public safety strategies that have already directed thousands of people into mental health and social services.
“After decades of a community safety strategy organized around police and punishment, we’ve reached a remarkable moment of consensus in Los Angeles County that a new approach is needed,” Dr. Robert Ross said. “Roughly 17,000 men and women are housed in our County jails each day. They are often struggling with homelessness, poverty, mental illness and addiction, and the justice system is ill-equipped to respond to their needs. By implementing the report’s recommendations, LA County could reduce our reliance on incarceration, and more effectively address the needs of people who too often end up in custody rather than receiving the services they need to live healthy, stable lives.”
LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, author of the motion that created the ATI Work Group, said, “I am very grateful to all the County and community leaders who sat down together over many meetings to make this breakthrough report possible. The office that was established today will take the report’s recommendations, which are grounded in sound, research-based strategies, and move forward to improve community health and safety by minimizing contact with law enforcement and directing people to health services instead of jail.”
The “Care First, Jails Last” report recommends that LA County prioritize five efforts:
1. Expand and scale community-based care
2. Ensure that people experiencing mental health and/or substance use disorders are provided with appropriate mental health responses
3. Implement meaningful pre-trial release and diversion services. (Currently, nearly half of all people in the County jail system are held pre-trial.)
4. Provide effective treatment services in non-custody settings
5. Continue to involve people with lived experience and establish policies and tools that will help to reduce and ultimately eliminate racial disparities.
Approximately two-thirds of the report’s 114 recommendations call for improving, scaling or expanding existing County programs.
The office established today will lead these efforts. The motion also calls for a fiscal, legal and operational analysis of the report’s 26 foundational recommendations which were identified in the report to jumpstart the implementation process.
Co-author of the motion Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said, “Implementation of these recommendations will complement the County’s focus on reducing homelessness and addressing racial inequities in our justice system. Thousands of individuals in our jails have untreated mental illness and substance use disorders, or both, and too often these men and women cycle between jail and homelessness and back again. While the County has taken steps to tackle this issue – the creation of the Office of Diversion and Reentry and the Sobering Center, for example – it’s clear from the ATI report that we must build on these solutions and do much more. We can break this cycle, and today’s actions represent a major step forward toward accomplishing that goal.”
Superior Court Judge (ret.) Peter Espinoza, who has led the County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR) since its establishment five years ago, added, “These ‘Care First, Jails Last’ recommendations and the office created today represent a significant milestone in County efforts to improve community health and safety. Over the last several years, ODR’s programs have demonstrated the potential in diversion. The ODR Housing program has successfully moved more than 4,600 people with untreated behavioral health disorders from the jail mental health population into care in the community, and a recent RAND study made clear that many more men and women could be safely treated through this and similar programs.”