Why Isn't LA County Considering Alternatives to Jail Expansion ? - Women's Foundation California

women-jailThis past week, Mary Sutton and Dana Zuniga published an article in the LA Progressive that posed the question of why LA County is considering building a new a new jail for women. They pointed out that “women (and men) who are no threat to anyone languish in L.A. County’s violent jails for weeks while awaiting trial simply because they can’t afford bail. Another 40% of the women held are part of the new realignment population and are convicted of non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual offenses. None of the options before the Board considers a reduced jail population that would result from the County investing available realignment dollars into community-based programs that truly reduce recidivism.” Read the full article here.

Judge Terry Smerling published an op-ed in the LA Times that also questions the LA jail expansion proposed, with particular emphasis on the plight of people in jail who have mental illness. Terry calls for spending money on local treatment programs that would keep low-risk offenders with mental illness out of jail. The experience of other counties across the country demonstrates that treatment outside penal institutions is not only vastly cheaper but also a far more effective approach to dealing with mental illness. For example, in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, a misdemeanor diversion program reduced the recidivism rate from 75% to 20%. And a felony diversion program was even more effective, cutting the recidivism rate to a mere 6%. Read the full article here.

A few months ago, Karen Shain, our Criminal Justice Policy Officer, described her experience visiting Century Regional Detention Facility (CRDF), L.A. County’s main women’s jail. This is where CRDF holds seriously mentally ill women who don’t have the resources to be admitted into private mental health hospitals. You can read here poignant description here.


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