In landmark move, L.A. County will replace Men’s Central Jail with mental health hospital for inmates

Los Angeles County supervisors narrowly approved a plan Tuesday to tear down the dungeon-like Men’s Central Jail downtown and build at least one mental health treatment facility in its place.

The new plan modifies a $2.2-billion proposal that would have created the Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility, which was slated to house 3,885 “inmate patients” in a rehabilitation-focused center in the footprint of the Central Jail, which was built in 1963.

Under a key provision approved Tuesday, the Department of Health Services would oversee the new facility, rather than the Sheriff’s Department, which currently manages all jail operations. The new space, called the Mental Health Treatment Center, would be staffed by the Department of Mental Health, with a limited number of deputies providing security

The county would also consider building a series of smaller mental health centers instead of a single, large hospital. The plan marks a signature shift in philosophy in housing inmates and a recognition of the changing nature of the jail population: Inmates who are medically or mentally ill now make up an estimated 70% of people held in the county jail system.

Community activists have long opposed the construction of any new jails, arguing that the billions of dollars devoted to a new facility would be better spent on reentry programs, supportive housing, community-based services and other alternatives. More than a hundred advocates for jail reform, dressed in orange shirts, filled the auditorium Tuesday to oppose the mental health treatment facility, arguing it would become a dressed-up jail.

Eunisses Hernandez of JustLeadershipUSA, an organization dedicated to reducing the jail population, said the supervisors borrowed the activists’ talking points in advocating for decentralized treatment facilities but approved a contract that might force the county to build a large jail-like facility.

“In the end they have just approved a contract to create a mental health jail, a jail with a bow on it,” Hernandez said. Still, she said it was a partial victory that years of activism have pushed officials to seek alternatives to incarceration.

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