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Men’s Central Jail is ‘falling apart.’ LA County leaders weigh spending $2.2 billion to replace it

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is poised Tuesday to consider approval of a roughly $2.2 billion correctional treatment facility that would replace the half-century old Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.

The goal of the proposed 3,885-bed facility for men and women is to create “a paradigm shift” by caring for county inmates with mental health, substance abuse and other medical issues by focusing on both treatment and rehabilitation rather than just incarceration, according to proponents.

Men’s Central Jail was built in the 1960s and was not designed to house inmates with medical and mental health conditions, according to the Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials. Not only does the jail with a post-World War II design have old plumbing and electrical systems, officials say, but its overcrowding, linear configuration and lack of sunlight jeopardize the safety of inmates and staff.

“It’s an aging, decrepit facility that’s falling apart structurally and also it’s not conducive to house inmates in 2018 for the general population or mentally ill inmates,” said L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Cmdr. Joseph E. Dempsey of the Custody Services Division following a media tour of the facility last week.
In addition, there’s no real programming space for these populations in areas such as life skills, high school equivalency classes or parenting, he said.
The proposal would include demolishing the Men’s Central Jail and building a new “consolidated correctional treatment facility” in its place, which proponents way would increase space for better monitoring and treatment and improve medical staff to inmate patient ratios.

As of Thursday, Men’s Central Jail housed some 3,300 inmates but was about 700 inmates over capacity according to state standards, Dempsey said.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said that for more than a decade there’s been recognition that Men’s Central Jail is “so far below” being able to serve inmates’ needs.

“It’s almost begging to replaced,” she said Monday. “It’s also recognizing that in this new era, that 70 percent of our inmates have some kind of mental health challenge or substance abuse issue and are much better served by treatment options than simply lock up and let (them) go.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility Tuesday, April 14, 2015. The Sheriff’s department is seeking 99.2 million dollars for the next fiscal year to enhance the Sheriff’s Custody Division and improve the jail environment for employees and inmates. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)
While the nearby Twin Towers Correctional Facility – where most of the roughly 3,300 inmates have mental illness – has better lighting, open space and both indoor and outdoor recreations areas, it is not conducive for mental health housing, county officials say. Its design also does not allow for confidential inmate-patient care.
As of January, the county’s Office of Diversion and Re-entry programs had diverted some 1,500 people to mental health and substance abuse treatment and supportive housing in the community instead of incarceration, according to county officials.

But that still leaves a large number of people who are sufficiently dangerous to themselves or society that the courts will insist they need a secure environment even as they get treatment, Kuehl said.

Before approving the project and its budget Tuesday, the board must first review and certify a final environmental impact report, the most comprehensive form of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), according to county officials. The report, which examined a number of environmental categories including air quality, noise and impacts to sensitive species, is required for proposals to build public projects.

The environmental review, which was conducted by consultant PlaceWorks at a cost of about $746,000, found that as long as recommended measures are taken, there would be no significant environmental impacts from this project during construction or the facility’s operation. The city of Los Angeles would have to agree, however, to permit a turn lane on Vignes Street so that the proposed parking structure on that street would not cause traffic problems in the afternoon if the facility were to open.

If the board approves the final environmental review, the project and its budget on Tuesday, it must still vote on recommendations for the award of the design-build contract at a later date.

Kuehl contended that there is significant community opposition from those who do not believe anyone should be incarcerated. While incarceration, per say, is not the best answer and can sometimes exacerbate a mental health or substance abuse issue, the courts will continue to sentence people to a secure and locked facility and the county must comply, she said.

“The best we can do is to make certain that we provide treatment within that facility and change the entire internal configuration so it is more skewed towards healing than simply you just get locked up and then let go,” she said.

Gazzar, B. (2018). Men's Central Jail is 'falling apart.' LA County leaders weigh spending $2.2 billion to replace it. Retrieved fromhttp://www.dailynews.com