The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to begin the process of closing Men’s Central Jail.
The motion comes nearly a year after another motion first brought the matter to the table, asking for a comprehensive plan to close the jail in a year so that the county could reduce incarceration.
Now, Supervisor Hilda Solis said it was time to take action, citing a study that provides the road map for doing so, a process estimated to take 18-24 months.
No replacement county jail or custody facility is planned. Rather, the plan entails redistributing some of the inmate population across other correctional facilities over time, as well as releasing approximately 4,500 inmates to yet-to-be identified community-based treatment centers.
“It’s high time that we definitely move away from ‘jails-first’ mentality,” Solis said. “We can do more, and I believe we must do more, and this is a necessary piece to begin that establishment. And we’re only letting residents know that we want to invest in you, our communities, our families by providing more service-oriented, rehabilitative, restorative programs, rather than investing only in prioritizing punishment.”
County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, was the only one to oppose the motion, saying that while she concurs the Men’s Central Jail should be permanently closed, as it’s overrun and outdated, she still has multiple concerns regarding not opening a new facility, as the county needs 4,000 more beds.
“Today’s motion is a rushed effort in advance of the pending JFI report, which is based on data and analysis and provides thoughtful strategies regarding admissions; reduction in length of stay; utilization of an efficient administrative structure to depopulate 5,000 inmates; and a method to quickly increase the number of mental health beds while expanding alternatives to incarceration,” Barger said in a prepared statement, referring to a JFI Institute report pending final issuance to the county in the next couple of weeks.
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva also warned the board against moving forward with the plan, calling cramming 12,500 inmates into 8,500 beds “unconstitutional.”
Barger went on to express concerns with the redistribution of inmates who need a “significant amount of resources to ensure they are not a danger to themselves or to others,” she said.
“We have a constitutional duty to provide services to those who are sentenced to county jail,” Barger added. “We are currently in a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice in response to our ability to care for this population. I am concerned that the DOJ will be critical of today’s decision to eliminate a replacement custody facility because we continue to fail our constitutional obligation.”
Barger’s alternative motion, which instead requested a comprehensive plan formed to identify the logistics behind building the community capacity for the redistribution of inmates before closing the jail, was rejected by other board members.