Alternatives to Incarceration

LA County Voted to Invest in Social Services Via Measure J. Now the Supes Must Prepare.

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

On November 3, 57 percent of voters in Los Angeles County approved Measure J, a ballot initiative to amend Los Angeles County’s charter to permanently set aside at least 10% of existing locally-controlled revenues to be directed to community investment and alternatives to incarceration starting in fiscal year 2021-22.

The LA County CEO’s Office estimates that this allocation will amount to between $360 and $490 million per year. Determining where those dollars should go “is a weighty responsibility,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored Measure J with Supervisor Hilda Solis.

On Tuesday, the board moved swiftly to ready itself for the responsibility, by approving a 17-member advisory committee and plans for community involvement to guide the funding process in what Supervisor Solis says will be an “inclusive” and transparent” manner.

“This is about a real commitment to work on behalf of those who entrusted those funds to us,” Kuehl said. The board wants the committee “to use a lot of tools to encourage participation, community surveys, community listening sessions, stakeholder policy summits. We will ask them to maintain an emphasis on capacity-building to help the county reimagine the way that we contract with community-based organizations.”

The committee will be made up of five people “with lived experience or direct knowledge of the criminal justice system due to a family member’s experience,” five individuals from advocacy or community-based organizations, and a representative each from the Office of Diversion and Reentry, the Department of Health Services, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Public Health (DPH), and the Substance Use Prevention and Control Program. The motion stipulates that no member of the committee can be currently or formally employed by a carceral system agency.

The board directed the CEO’s Office to work with County Counsel and the county’s alternatives to incarceration and anti-racism-focused workgroups to come up with a timeline for establishing the Measure J committee, a proposal for consultants “with expertise in racial equity frameworks,” and “deep knowledge of serving Brown, Black and low-income communities,” and strategies for increasing capacity of small community-based organizations led by people of color in LA County.

The board also approved an important amendment to the motion, authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, that seeks to ensure that the Measure J funding takes into account the fact that Black residents are disproportionately impacted by “the most punitive aspects” of the criminal justice system. Thus, the county will use $1 million to gather and analyze “hyper-local actionable data” regarding the “state of Black Los Angeles County,” according to Ridley-Thomas.

Measure J and Tuesday’s motion to get the process rolling are part of a movement to “reimagine” LA County as a county that prioritizes care and services over incarceration.

The shift began in earnest in August 2019, when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors made the historic decision to cancel a $1.7 billion contract to replace the dangerous and dungeon-like Men’s Central Jail, and to commit that money and effort to a “care first, jail last” ethic, instead. Nationwide protests demanding government leaders dismantle the criminal justice system in its current form and replace it with a system focused on community health and care has helped to propel this work.


  • No bid contracts for Shiela’s friends to help with Covid19. A no bid contract for Shiela’s friend to help with sexual harassment on the Metro System. I predict more contracts will go to the friends and donor of the Board of Supervisors. $500,000,000 buys a lot of loyal supporters.

    The groups and supporters of this measure will be standing in line with their hands out. They will be yelling show us the money. Crime will go up in communities of color but we will have a new crop of wealthy leaders of color and a few lefty white lawyers. They will be enriched by the hundreds of millions of dollars siphoned off for “just” compensation, no doubt.

    Changing people to move away from addiction and a criminal lifestyle is hard work. Most of these supporters do no run successful programs now. Serious professionals who want to make a difference will be stuck in an endless loop of trying to achieve equity of outcomes.

    Individual success ultimately comes down to individual responsibility. It must be taught in the home. Most offenders were not taught this. It will require some level of coercion to change them.

    Since you have vilified Law Enforcement and the rest of the Criminal Justice System, good luck with finding some leverage for change!

  • This latest Measure J scheme sounds uncomfortably familiar. In the March 2017 election, the Board of Supervisors shepherded Measure H through to victory, thereby generating a projected $355 million per year by raising the sales tax by one quarter of a percent, ostensibly to reduce the immense and continually growing homelessness problem. As observers may recall, there was no specific plan in place at the time of the election of how the money would be utilized. However, the Board promised to assemble committees to include so-called experts and stakeholders who would generate data from their committee meetings and subsequent studies that would purportedly create programs that would cure the social ill of homelessness. Ultimately, a significant amount of the generated funds have been spent with nonprofit community outreach organizations. In each subsequent year, the County homelessness count has shown sizable increases in the number of homeless rather than the promised reduction or elimination. Lessons learned? Now, in 2020, the buzzwords have changed to include defunding and reimagining, but the players and their whimsical groupthink have not. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to understand why voters who already suffer existing in a society full of severe problems would support this nonsense.

  • “It is becoming increasingly more difficult to understand why voters…would support this nonsense.”


    “Something that is pleasant to contemplate but is very unlikely to be realized.”

    That quote is the Dictionary definition of “pie-in-the-sky,” and the Dictionary is the New Oxford American Dictionary.

    I shudder to think how high the body count will go before it is realized that this idea is impractical.

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