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.