The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently voted to approve a new $2 billion plan to rebuild the downtown Men’s Central Jail and create a new women’s jail.1 The decision has drawn both praise and criticism.
The city’s new jail plan would tear down the existing overcrowded men’s facility and replace it with a new two-tower, 4,860-bed jail. It would specialize in housing inmates with mental health issues but would also have room for high-security inmates and inmates who require drug and medical treatment. A new 1,600 bed women’s facility would also be built in Lancaster.2
The main objective of the plan is not to significantly help in easing prison overcrowding, but to help the jails comply with federal mandates on the treatment of mentally ill inmates.3
The Pros of Los Angeles’ New Jail Plan
County officials believe the construction of a new jail is inevitable so it should be built now, as delaying the project would only result in even higher costs in the future. Failing to update the facilities to meet federal mandates would also result in government intervention that would force the city to make changes at a much higher cost.4
L.A. County Supervisors also voted to undertake an analysis of diversion programs for mentally ill offenders in the county and the possibility of housing them in a non-jail setting. An early study found about 1,000 of the county’s approximately 3,000 mentally ill inmates could be diverted to non-jail beds, reducing jail crowding as well as the cost housing them in county jail.5
The Cons of Los Angeles’ New Jail Plan
Critics argue the board should wait until a new sheriff and two new county supervisors take office in December before making any major decisions.6
Despite more beds, the new jail is not expected to ease overcrowding, which is a more pressing matter. They also argue mental health is not being addressed adequately, as evidenced by the board hiring a construction firm to recommend how to house the jail population without looking for ways to divert mentally ill offenders from lockups.7
What Wallin & Klarich Thinks
The new jail plan is obviously a polarizing issue. A project of that magnitude should not go forward without more of a consensus. A new jail may be necessary for the city, but its plan does not adequately address the issue of Los Angeles’ jail overcrowding epidemic.
Alleviating long-term overcrowding seems to be a bigger issue that is being overlooked. Changing the way mentally ill inmates are treated in the jail system is just a part of this problem. The board should make more changes to the way jails treat their inmates instead of simply adding more beds for them to sleep in.
What do you think? Should there be a better plan before moving forward? Should a new jail even be built at all? Do you have an alternative solution? Please leave your comments and tell us what you think. We value your opinion.
1. [L.A. County supervisors vote to move forward on $2-billion jail plan, May 6, 2014, http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-80127742/]↩
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