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UPDATED – Supes Vote to Cancel Controversial $1.7 Billion Men’s Central Jail Replacement Contract

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

UPDATE: In a historic 4-1 vote, the LA County Board of Supervisors has chosen to cancel the contract to replace the dangerous and unhealthy Men’s Central Jail with a $1.7 billion mental health facility. WLA will have more on the story in the coming hours.


On Tuesday, August 13, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors may vote to cancel a massive $1.7 billion construction contract to replace the dilapidated and chronically unsafe Men’s Central Jail with a secure health care facility.

If the supervisors pass the motion authored by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, which would cause the county to exit the McCarthy Building Companies contract, the move would mark the latest milestone in a 15-year journey toward replacing the jail, and, more recently, toward what the supes are calling a “care first, jail last” approach to criminal justice in the county.

The Backstory

In a narrow 3-2 vote back in February, the board of supervisors scrapped the increasingly controversial plan to replace Men’s Central Jail with a high-tech 3,855-bed “mental health jail,” known as the Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facilty (or CCTF), opting, instead, to build a new “mental health treatment center.” The idea was that the new facility–although still technically a lockup–would be operated and primarily staffed by the LA County Department of Health Services, rather than by the sheriff’s department, which would still have to provide a certain amount of security for the center. (While the current contract amount is $1.7 billion, the supervisors have $2.18 billion budgeted for the project.)

The change of plans did not satisfy opponents of the original jail replacement project, however. Through its #CancelMcCarthyContract campaign, the Reform LA Jails coalition–a group of justice reform advocates and community members led by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Jasmyne Cannick–has kept urging the board to dump the new jail altogether, and instead focus that money and attention on diversion and other alternatives to incarceration.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, the two votes against the motion to switch to a mental health treatment facility, but still keep the rebuild project, argued that the change did not go far enough to reduce the county’s overreliance on incarceration. At the time, the two supervisors offered a competing motion that aimed to temporarily sideline the jail plans, years in the making, to give the county time to reevaluate the project, and ideally, find a solution that prioritized diversion and evidence-based alternatives over incarceration for LA’s justice system-involved residents with mental illnesses.

“It’s still a jail,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said, when she explained why she opposed the February vote. “It’s still preventing people from having freedom. Now we’re proposing the largest mental health institution. For many of us, that is not going to do.”

Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California, agreed. “You cannot provide good mental health care in a facility designed for 4000,” Eliasberg said, regardless of whether that facility is a mental health center or a jail.

The supes who voted in favor of the February motion expressed concern, however, about having to spend even more than the agreed-upon $2.2 billion if they had to start over with McCarthy or another building company. The board was soon to be on the hook for a one-time $30 million payment to McCarthy to start the design process. Plus, starting in July, the county would have to start paying the building company an additional $7.7 million per month, according to the contract.

There was also the problem of slowing down the jail replacement process and thus, forcing more and more men to be incarcerated in the facilty, which was also dangerous and unhealthy for those who worked there.

So the jail contract stood.

The CEO’s Report on “Right-Sizing” the Jail Replacement

In that same February motion, LA County CEO Sachi Hamai and the Departments of Health Services and Mental Health were tasked with partnering with McCarthy to develop a “right-size” design for the mental health facility, returning to the supes in 90 days with their report.

The supervisors asked for a plan “informed by all of the leading research and information on mental health challenges experienced by those that come most in contact with law enforcement.”

On August 7, Hamai delivered her report to the board. The CEO laid out three options for housing approximately 4,800 people in varying combinations of non-custodial beds and custodial beds, either at a Men’s Central Jail replacement lockup, or in a renovated version of the Twin Towers jail.

Hamai’s report referenced a preliminary report from the Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR) estimating that the county could feasibly divert 56 percent of the approximately 5,134 mental health inmates away from jail and into community treatment.

Despite expressing overall support for diversion efforts, Sheriff Alex Villanueva made clear that his office did not back any of the plans, which featured, at most, 2,400 jail beds–a number far too low in the sheriff’s opinion. The sheriff also said he was concerned by the estimated potential diversion rate, saying that the ODR “might not have considered all related factors,” when they came up with that number.

On August 8, One day after the CEO’s report arrived, the Board of Supervisors issued their agenda for the upcoming August 13 meeting, featuring three separate indicating that the county may move in an entirely different direction.

The Three Motions

This coming Tuesday, the board will consider a trio of motions, including the first motion from Supervisors Solis and Kuehl to kill the current McCarthy mental health facility contract.

Citing the fact that the Office of Diversion and Reentry study–and a handful of others reports crucial to determining the right size for the mental health treatment facility–are not yet completed, Solis and Kuehl argue that the reports back from the CEO and Health Departments “clearly demonstrate the imprudence of proceeding forward with the design and construction of the original scope of the MHTC when it is clear that, at the very least, the design will need to substantially change once all of the facts are known.” The best move, according to the motion, would be to do away with the current design-build contract.

This plan, however, still leaves the problem of what to do with Men’s Central Jail and the men living inside it.

“While there is consensus about demolishing Men’s Central Jail,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, “the more important question of what should replace it, and how this would fit into our comprehensive strategy for criminal justice reform, remains unresolved.”

With this dilemma in mind, Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Janice Hahn are also introducing a motion, which appears to build on that of Supervisors Solis and Kuehl. This second motion would commission a report on the feasibility of demolishing Men’s Central Jail, as well as a report on the top-priority maintenance needs within the current jail so that the county can “uphold the constitutional rights of incarcerated individuals.” The motion also directs the CEO to convene a workgroup of county departments and other stakeholders to “synthesize” all those soon-to-be-released criminal justice system reports and make recommendations for how best to reform the criminal justice system and replace the crumbling jail. Additionally, the motion directs the workgroup to come up with recommendations for reallocating 2019-2020 county budget funds set aside for the jail project toward alternatives to incarceration and other reforms.

A third motion, from Supes Solis and Hahn directs the county health departments to hire an outside consultant to identify the range of community-based placements and beds that would be needed to achieve a truly “decentralized continuum of clinical, trauma-informed care facilities operated by health personnel,” how much that system would cost, and what funding sources exist, including the McCarthy money. The motion also directs the health departments to coordinate a report on how the county could demolish Men’s Central Jail by reducing, or eliminating entirely, the need for jail beds to replace those that would be lost (via diversion and other strategies).

This last point is the goal that Reform LA Jails is fighting to bring to fruition.

On Thursday, August 8, the jail reform coalition rallied downtown and threatened to bring a lawsuit over the contract and the county’s alleged failure to engage in a competitive bidding process when the job was originally assigned.

For months now, advocates and community members affected by the criminal justice system have shown up to the supervisors’ weekly meetings, urging the board to back out of the McCarthy plan and invest the $2.2 billion in services in the community, rather than in incarceration.

“The goal should be to scale up effective culturally competent mental health and substance use models that are community-based,” Pattrisse Cullors said during last week’s rally.

The supervisors, to their credit, do appear to be really trying to get this jail replacement right.

The plan, Ridley-Thomas said, should “build on the successes of the County’s psychiatric urgent care centers, mental evaluation teams, the sobering center – all created within the last few years; the Office of the Diversion and Reentry, whose work is being scaled up; and the MLK Behavioral Health Center, which will open in 2020.”

The county is “only beginning to realize all the benefits of those investments and still have much to learn,” said the supervisor.

The board must “take the time to do this right,” said Ridley-Thomas.

LA County’s criminal justice system should be an accountable system “that guarantees public safety, diverts the mentally ill to treatment when appropriate, and holds people liable for breaking the law while providing humane treatment and rehabilitative services intended to prevent recidivism,” the supervisor added.

22 Comments

  • This is ridiculous and shows the total incompetence of the BOS. The issue with Men’s Central Jail didn’t just happen over night and it’s replacement plans have been in the works for years. The BOS were initially in agreement and supported the plan for it’s replacement, before they were against it and made a 180 degree pivot away due to pressure from a small but vocal protest group and ACLU. This was also the BOS way to snub Sheriff’s Department and the Sheriff.

    Is the board just simply ambivalent, stupid, incompetent or all three? Their mismanaging the tax payers money leaves taxpayers on the hook with the construction firm for millions no matter what, all the while the BOS is still commissioning studies on what to do.

    This is clearly why some folks remain in high positions in local, state and national government. Where else could you mis-manange an area you are responsible for, have access to endless supplies of money and never be held accountable for being incompetent?

    The LA County tax payers deserve better and the entire BOS, aka POS, needs to be recalled and investigated.

    This problem sounds like Congress and the border wall. The BOS will have no problem using the Sheriff’s Department and it’s employees as scapegoats and throwing them under the bus to take the criticism off themselves regarding the “cruel and inhumane” conditions in the jails. More political theater yet again.

  • Dear Pattresse Cullors:
    What expertise do you have on mental health? Yes, we noted you started BLM and other racist groups but that doesn’t qualify your ass an expert! The last time I heard you speak you couldn’t put two words together without the F-word. Yes, I agree that you will be likely the first person to be housed in the new facility regardless its a jail or mental facility. Really, anyone think you have any sense or ability at all? Please tell us about your education and experience other than hating anyone who is not like you?

    Dear BOS:
    We need a new jail. If you tear down the facility and put this horror you have in mind where are you going to house Type 1 prisoners? Do any of you have the brains to understand that the majority of prisoners at Twin Towers don’t spend that much time there?

    Next, where are you going to get the monies to pay for this fiasco? More taxes?

    Name just one facility, anywhere in the world where the mentally ill were cured in a facility as you propose?

    More socialism for LA La land!

    • Um:

      “Name just one facility, anywhere in the world where the mentally ill were cured in a facility as you propose?”

      Reminds me of a Psychology 1A class I took many decades ago as a General Education requirement for my Baccalaureate.

      This is what the instructor said about Psychology in general:

      “It is an elevated form of voodoo.”

      A direct quote.

  • The need for mental health treatment/housing in the LA County jail system is largely a scam. I challenge WLA to do some real investigative journalism and figure it out. There’s a group of inmates – shall we call it a race of inmates? – that is burning up the “mental health” resources at an alarming rate. And it’s completely a sham. They do it to get better housing (to be sent to certain facilities where their families can visit them easier), avoid being sent to discipline (usually for assaulting other inmates of their race), pretend to be crazy for their criminal cases, and to avoid being housed with rival gang members.

    Are there “poo flingers,” “finger painters,” and other totally crazy inmates in the system? No doubt about it. But the inmates described above, the ones who cycle in and out of temporary mental health housing, are scammers extraordinaire.

    Don’t take my word for it – make contact with JMET or deputies who work TTCF. What you find out will not fit your SJW narrative, so I don’t expect WLA will publish what you find out.

    • The Mental Health Facility should be housing the Mayor, City Council members and the Stooges who make up the County Board of Supervisors !!!

  • Ridiculousness, start the recall. I’ll sign once you start gathering signatures. Or, do you mean that someone other than you should recall these people. If we can’t get rid the Buffoon in the white house, how will get rid of the supes, who can at least put sentences together. Do they really think building a new jail will make a difference so long as we have the Sheriff’s Dept that we have running it? Please.

    Um, how do you really feel about Ms. Cullours? And what racist organization? BLM? Really? Because they reminded you that black people should matter. You needed reminding. You are not in Kansas anymore, Dorthy. Ms. Cullours and her crew will call you a pig to your face and you’ll have to bite your lip. And, regarding the jail, do we really need another jail? Maybe an additional protective custody wing for the deputies that every so often get caught beating inmates, diddling little cadets, with child porn, defrauding the government with fake disability claims, etc…

    Cognistator, agreed. It’s only now coming into its own as a true science, although it still has a ways to go. Although it is more of a science than so-called police science that is taught in some institutions and departments.

    • little c little f: I think you have misspelled Ms. Cullors name. But I expected that. BLM or KKK are the same just different color of people. Really!!!

    • Your so predictable and always manage to slither to the lowest levels. This constants reference to and pre-occupation with child molestation needs to be addressed professionally and criminally.

      Sicko!

      Again, you need help or are you already under the care of a mental health professional.

  • So, let me get this straight…the BOS dithers for 15 years while Mira Loma and CCTF move forward, spending tens of millions of dollars, hiring McCarthy to build the facility and now, at the last minute bends to the wishes of a few fringe groups who think we no longer need jails.

    What few realize (including the BOS) is, unlike other large jurisdictions, we have STATE prisoners (AB109) in our jails and because we went from a population of 20,000 at one time to a capped daily average of around 16,000, inmates only serve 10% or less of their sentences for lack of beds. As a result, current population is truly the worst of the worst.

    But DIVERSION will solve all our problems and we know we can divert HALF of the 5,000 mentally ill criminals INTO THE COMMUNITY. How do we know this? Because of a study done by the…..OFFICE OF DIVERSION AND REENTRY!

    What Taylor, and apparently everyone else, has forgotten is that these people aren’t just mentally ill… they’re CRIMINALS. But like obesity and addiction, criminals can now be “treated” for the affliction they’re victims of. Its NOT their fault.

    Past Sheriffs have fought the BOS when they attempted to reduce jails beds, but this Sheriff seems unconcerned, having already sacrificed the new Mira Loma Facility, fearing it would be too far for inmate’s families to travel. Amazing.

    • According to Ron Hernandez, ALADS pulled out all of the stops “$$$$$$$” to ensure that the current Sheriff is the best one ever.

      You may not get what you pay for however you’ll pay for what you get.

  • Looks like regular old time politics to me. Instead of worrying about a couple of political nobodies like Cullors and Cannick it would be pretty interesting to see how Board members and their families are connected with McCarthy and their subcontractors. 2.2 billion in play and all our ace cub reporter Taylor has to say is that she thinks the Board is really trying to get this right. The money is going to get spent, there’s going to be a jail (whatever they wind up calling it)the rest is just a smoke screen.

  • Lost Angeles County – the place where crime pays.

    I encourage the Board members, who certainly don’t live in an area where their safety is at undue risk, to go for a cruise in the skid row area and they can see how well their programs are working…

  • Holy CRAP! I remember when Sheriffs would go before the Board and make their case….clearly, concisely and eloquently. Block was the best I’ve seen, but even Baca was confident and addressed them with respect even though, as an elected official, he was nearly as powerful.

    What I saw yesterday as Villanueva, bumbled, mumbled (it’s MARINA DEL REY Station for Pete’s sake) and got clowned by Hahn at one point, was just embarrassing. His points were valid, but they were lost in a RAMBLING chronology of a case where an inmate was diverted and (I think) committed murder.

    If you haven’t seen it, you need to. I’m now of the opinion that there’s something cognitively wrong with this guy. He’s like the neighbor or relative everyone grew up with that isn’t drunk, but perpetually buzzed on one or two beers. Slurring, misusing or mispronouncing words….

    I really don’t know WHO is handling him, but they should be fired. His people failed as badly as he did because they didn’t prep him and provide him with a short, concise script with easy to understand speaking points.

    The IDIOT (except Barger) Supervisors voted the replacement for CJ down, but Villanueva is SOLELY to blame for it’s failure. He opened his comments by boasting about killing the Mira Loma Project and at one point suggested closing facilities at Pitches Detention Center. Incredible.

  • Maybe the McCarthy construction company could build MRT another man cave, or DC scandal solis whatever she desires

  • Millions and millions wasted on consultants, architects and engineers. I feel sorry for the guys and gals who have to make that outdated and crumbling jail work. MCJ is one slight step up from Alcatraz. Maybe now a judge will force the county to replace it…..

  • CopperStar:
    Perhaps it would behoove the sheriff and ALADS to have the LA County Grand Jury condemn the place? It worked before.

  • Sheila Kuehl is a Certified Knuckle-Head … 100% Removed from Reality … The Mental Health Facility should be her Retirement Plan !!!

  • Hmm…former FBI Director Comey is a later as are Huntsman and Teran along with most politicians. The people who are trained to twist words, manipulate the law and explain away anything would never lie or do anything underhanded.

    My money’s on the folks who think they are above the law and sit in their comfy offices for being the dirty ones.

  • This whole situation with MCJ & the construction of a mental health facility is an abomination. However, the people who will suffer from this debacle are the residents of L.A. County, (frivolously spent tax dollars), as well as the people who are subjected to working in that crude infested building.

    If you have not noticed by now, the new narrative for the Left is to hamstring law enforcement, while elevating the guilty and providing all the necessary resources for their adjustment and comfort, while continually reaming the tax payer for an additional increase in taxes for BS social programs.

    The current back & forth between the Sheriff and the BOS is reminiscent of the POTUS and Congress. Further, the alleged downloading of personnel files is also reminiscent of the FBI & DOJ against the POTUS.

    Based on the information provided by the KABC news article, it appears that the Sheriff has a legitimate case against Huntsman and his cohort Teran. Further, I find it interesting / baffling, that McD could not be reached for comment. McD loved to give interviews. Sounds like McD may have been complicit with this alleged illegal downloading of files (almost like Hilary Clinton). Nonetheless, if this investigation proves to be accurate, I hope that Huntsman and Teran receive the same justice / discipline that they imposed on Deputy personnel.

    Isn’t it peculiar that Sheila Kuehl is doing all the talking (defending), of the OIG?

    Truly amazing how the so called “overseers” of the law, continually project their inadequacies and malfeasance onto the other side. Hmm, must be a DemonRat thing.

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