3 Supes Pass $2 Billion Jail Plan Despite Objections & D.A. Jackie Lacey Works on a Project for ChangeMay 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon
In a three to two vote, members of the LA County Board of Supervisors decided to move ahead with a nearly $2 billion plan to tear down the dangerous and decrepit Men’s Central Jail, and build in its place a state of the art facility that will house 4,860 inmates, with approximately 3200 of those beds slated for LA County jail’s mentally ill population.
The project will also include a campus-like jail facility for woman to be built at the site of the now closed Mira Loma jail.
Supervisors Mike Antonovich, Don Knabe and Gloria Molina voted to give the green light to project, which was one of five differently priced plans presented by Vanir Construction Management.
Zev Yaroslavsky voted against the decision, and Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.
The go-ahead for the project came in spite of a raft of letters and public testimony from advocates and mental health professionals who urged the board to put a hold on the building until they could put into place a strong diversion strategy for the many mentally ill who commit non-serious crimes and are in need of treatment, not jail time, where historically the problems of the mentally ill have been exacerbated.
The vote also ran counter to the wishes of all but one of the candidates for sheriff who also favored diversion for low level mentally ill offenders, and said they believed that the new sheriff elected in November should be a part of the decision making process on a project of his magnitude, especially considering that the sheriff would have the responsibility for running the new jails.
LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY: “THE CURRENT SYSTEM IS, SIMPLY PUT, UNJUST.”
Some of the most interesting moments in the more than three hour discussion about the building plan came when Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey surprised some watchers by making her own presentation to the board on the topic of a “comprehensive diversion plan,” that would place a large percentage of the mentally ill lawbreakers that now are housed in the county’s jail system into community treatment facilities.
Lacey spoke with with low key but seemingly genuine passion the topic.”It is clear, even to those of us in law enforcement, that we can do better in Los Angeles County,” she said. “The current system is, simply put, unjust.”
Lacy went on to explain that, together with other county officials, including judges, public defenders, prosecutors, and more, her office has created a special taskforce to “identify successful jail diversion practices in other parts of the country and to develop a model that can work here in Los Angeles County.”
Lacey said that members of the task force-—called the Criminal Justice Mental Health Project—have been meeting for a several months and have visited similar diversion programs that are already up and running successfully in Miami-Dade Florida, Memphis. Tennessee and San Antonio,Texas.
“The task force intends to develop a plan that will “relieve a significant portion of jail overcrowding,” Lacey said, adding that her goal is to add 1000 residential beds in the community as well as to set up an outpatient program for another 1000 people “who may be able to accept help and be monitored” without the need for a residential program.
The point is to leave only those in the jail those who need to be there, she said.
Since Vanir’s plan is to provide 3,216 mental health beds in the proposed new jail, if a comprehensive diversion program of the nature that DA Lacey envisions can indeed be put into place, the obvious question is whether the county needs a replacement project that is as large and expensive as the one that the board has voted to fund.
Even Lacey tried tactfully to broach the subject. “When I looked at the jail plan,” she said, “I saw that a significant amount of the cost is based on what you’re going to do with those who are mentally ill. You should know that there’s a committed group of professionals…who are looking for alternative ways to address the issue. We’re serious about it. And I am optimistic.”
When she went to visit the Memphis program, she said, she found they were doing so well with diversion that they were shutting down a wing of their jail.
“I just thought you ought to be aware,” Lacey said finally to the board, “that, quite frankly, something very profound is going on behind the scenes and just factor it in to what you’re doing today.”
A COMPROMISE, SORT OF
Prior to the vote, a dismayed Zev Yaroslavsky called the Vanir plan possibly the most costly in the nation, and urged his fellow supervisors to wait for Lacey’s task force to report before bulldozing ahead.
“I do think that it would make some sense if we could have some information…some of your conclusions” he said, referring to Lacey, “even if they’re preliminary, before we commit to spending this kind of money.”
Alas, it was not to be.
Supervisor Gloria Molina (who, along with Supervisor Mike Antonovich, co-sponsored the motion to go ahead with Vanir plan), was particularly concerned that, because of jail overcrowding, too many inmates were being let out of jail after having only served a fraction of their sentences, explained senior aide, Roxane Marquez after the vote.
Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed a second motion that called for a report back from Lacey and her task for in 60 days. “Keeping people out of jail who should not be in jail is the right thing to do,” he said. “There is no comprehensive and adequate approach to diversion.
He read from his motion:
“A comprehensive diversion plan is the missing element of the jail master planning analysis. Without its inclusion, the jail master plan, in my view, is in complete. Regardless of the selections to replace men’s central jail, the County of Los Angeles must commit to develop and fun a sustained plan to divert low-level offender from incarceration who are mentally ill and/or substance abusers. the mentally ill, unfortunately, are incarcerated at higher rates than people without mental illness.”
Ridley-Thomas’s motion passed unanimously 5-0.
AND IT OTHER NEWS…JUDGE CHOOSES PRESIDENT FOR DEPUTY UNION ALADS TO BREAK CRAZY GRIDLOCK
The LA Times Cindy Chang has the update on this ongoing high stakes melodrama. Here’s a clip:
A power struggle at the union that represents Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies has entered a new phase after a judge barred the leader of one faction from entering the group’s headquarters.
For now, Jeffrey Steck will serve as president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. His rival, Armando Macias, will retain no power under a preliminary injunction granted by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin on Tuesday.
At one point, both Steck and Macias claimed to be president. Each had an official-looking website. Business ground to a halt with uncertainty over who could sit at the negotiating table or withdraw money from union bank accounts.
On Tuesday, Lavin granted a preliminary injunction in Steck’s favor. Macias may not access union funds, represent himself as a union leader or set foot in the union’s building in Monterey Park.
But the dispute could drag on, draining money from union coffers, as Steck seeks to make the prohibitions permanent.
Here’s the back story on the unions very messy high stakes power struggle.
WHEN TAKING PHOTOS HELPS TRAUMATIZED HAITIAN KIDS
Art sometimes heals. Katy McCarthy of the Juvenile Justice Network has the story-–and copies of the photos the kids took too. Take a look.