Downsizing the LA Jail: Time to Close Men’s Central Jail

As the LA County Board of Supervisors (BOS) began advancing their “care first, jail last” strategy in 2020 numerous public-private bodies (Commissions, Committees, Workgroups) were established to bring together justice stakeholders from government agencies, service providers and advocates to research, deliberate and make recommendations on how to enact a more JUST vision of LA’s Justice System. All of the new bodies build on the groundbreaking work and recommendations of the ATI (Alternatives to Incarceration) Workgroup from 2019.
In June 2020, due to COVID-19 measures, LA hit a 30 year low in the jail population with just under 12,000 individuals held in LA County jail, down from the long standing average daily population of 17,000. The Board of Supervisors convened a collaborative body to determine what measures had been taken to drop the jail population so significantly and make recommendations on what the County could do to maintain a reduced jail population. Through a rapid and intense series of summer meetings, which LARRP co-founders Troy Vaughn and Lynne Lyman actively participated in, the Committee produced this report with dozens of recommendations, Maintaining a Reduced Jail Population Post COVID-19, August 9, 2020. The BOS moved the findings and recommendations of this report to a new collaborative body, the Jail Population Review Council, hosted by the Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR), where the charge is to prioritize and develop pathways to implementation for the many recommendations.
Building off the success of the Jail Reductions report, the BOS passed a motion in July to Develop a Plan to Close Men’s Central Jail (MCJ), convening a new MCJ Closure Workgroup that has been meeting furiously since August. Charged with developing a plan to close LA’s largest, oldest and most decrepit jail facility within one year, the MCJ Closure Workgroup created subcommittees and got to work. With a goal of reducing the jail population below 8,500 in order to accommodate closing MCJ, and a jail population rising daily with reduced COVID safety precautions, along with increasing numbers of sentenced individuals awaiting transfer to state prison or state hospitals, the MCJ closure work is both ambitious and essential.
LARRP continues to dedicate tremendous resources to this herculean effort. Troy and Lynne served as Chair and Staff to the Services and Programs (S&P) Subcommittee where they worked with issue area experts in county agencies and community organizations to identify pathways to community based placements for the 4 most vulnerable populations in the jail, those with severe mental illness, those with substance use disorder, those experiencing homelessness, and the medically fragile. The S&P SubComm identified numerous existing County-to-Community placement pathways that could be immediately scaled up to accommodate thousands more community-based placements with expanded fiscal investments. A Facilities Subcommittee is working on developing a plan for redistributing individuals who cannot be safely released into community placements to the remaining 6 LA jail facilities, and the Data and Racial Equity Subcommittees are gathering and analyzing critical data and community feedback.
This work is ongoing and will require a tremendous amount of vision, courage, and tenacity to implement. The MCJ Closure Workgroup will be meeting through the end of March and developing a final report and recommendations, you can read Report 1 and Report 2 here. LARRP’s February General Meeting will feature a live update on the MCJ Closure work from lead consultant Karen Tamis.