1,000 signatures reached
To: The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
Stop Los Angeles From Building a $4 Billion Mental Health Jail
We strongly urge the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors to vote, on February 12th, to reject the plan to build new jails. This plan, which would renovate the Mira Loma facility and build a Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility downtown, claims to address the mental health needs of those who are incarcerated. As health workers, community members, and families impacted by incarceration, we know that jails are harmful to human health. We strongly urge the Board of Supervisors to immediately reject this $4 billion plan to builds more cages, and pursue public health based alternatives that (1) expand the capacity of medical and mental health care systems, (2) divert people from jail, (3) reduce police contact, and (4) coordinate the county's current studies, investments, and priorities towards producing outcomes that decarcerate the county jail system.
1) Los Angeles County should be expanding the capacity of its medical and mental health care system through mental health emergency responders, supportive housing, hospital beds, and community-based facilities. The crisis of incarceration is intimately related to the crisis of housing and dangerous deficiencies in mental health and medical care systems for those who have physical and mental health disabilities. For the past 40 years, Los Angeles and the country more generally have used the criminal justice system as a one-size fit all solution to these problems. As health care workers, we have witnessed how this “solution” has caused cycles of suffering and negative health outcomes. The Board of Supervisors can draw on the expertise of health care workers and researchers as well as community leaders who are most impacted by criminalization and incarceration and who intimately understand the needs, to craft upstream solutions and integrated systems of long term care that prevent incarceration.
2) Los Angeles County should divert more people from its jails. The high rates of mental health disability, homelessness and substance use among those incarcerated, as well as the county’s high rates of recidivism, all point to the critical importance of systematically evaluating the potential for diversion to reduce the harms of incarceration. The county has joined other major American cities, such as New York and Chicago, in responding to this need. In 2015, the Board of Supervisors created the Office of Diversion and Re-Entry (ODR), which thus far has diverted 2,800 people from the jails. This volume in such a short period of time indicates the very considerable potential for diversion from the jail system. With such options available, and with other cities such as New York showing marked declines in its population through such efforts, it does not make sense to invest resources in building more jail capacity. Instead, we urge the County to establish a strategic plan for a reduction in the jail population through jail diversion and other treatment and housing-centered alternatives to incarceration.
3) Police contact should not be the means by which communities are connected to housing, medical, and mental health care. The LAPD and the LA County Sheriffs have promoted and added mental health clinicians to newly formed emergency response teams and jail systems have connected incarcerated people to supportive housing and treatment programming upon their release. Yet, law enforcement and incarceration is a source of violence against Black, Brown, poor, disabled, women and/or transgender people. Last year, the work of grassroots organizations and health providers moved the American Public Health Association to recognize that police violence is a public health issue that undermines our communities’ ability to develop non-law enforcement responses to crisis and harm. We are acutely aware of the consequences of these forms of violence in our emergency rooms, hospitals, and community clinics. We believe it is paramount to develop non-police based alternatives and connect community members to services without police contact.
4) Los Angeles should coordinate the current studies, investments, and priorities that it has committed to towards producing outcomes that decarcerate the county jail system. Since the Los Angeles County Supervisors approved the jail in May of 2014, they have significantly increased their commitment to address houselessness by $402 million, allocated $49 million to permanent supportive housing, has called for the diversion of pregnant women from jail to community based alternatives, and is studying the need for mental health hospital beds; these beds are vital to moving our loved ones inside of jail facilities into safer, more effective treatment. In addition, the County’s commitment to bail reform should, as in other jurisdictions, aim towards significant reductions of the jail population. The County should immediately coordinate all of these and other commitments into a countywide effort that dramatically reduces the jail population.
Why is this important?
The #JusticeLA campaign, a broad coalition made up of local and national stakeholders and community members and born from the work of family members in Los Angeles who have had loved ones harmed and killed by the Los Angeles jail system has been struggling with the Board of Supervisors on their dissonant plan to invest at least $4 billion dollars into jail expansion in Los Angeles County for almost a decade. The #JusticeLA campaign is partnering with health workers from across the spectrum of service and health advocacy to demand the long overdue end to caging as a response to public health issues.
Jails and all forms of incarceration are bad for human health. Achieving humane, high quality and accessible health care for the roughly 170,000 people who are incarcerated every year in Los Angeles, the largest jail system in the world, is an urgent task, specifically because jails and other forms of incarceration are not health care institutions. On the contrary, jails are fundamentally harmful to human health. Understanding people inside primarily as criminals, not patients, jails isolate people from their families and communities, deprive people of control and agency over their bodies, subject people to unsafe environments and cause long-lasting trauma. Recent scholarship has outlined many of these harms on incarcerated people and their communities, showing, for example, how incarceration worsens mental health disabilities (Schnittker 2015) and shortens lives (Nosrati et al 2017).
The previously approved $4 billion jail plan poses a significant and urgent threat to the health of those most criminalized, including Black and Latinx people across Los Angeles. The county is already home to the largest mental health facility in the country, Twin Towers jail. Eighty percent of the current jail system population is either Black or Latinx and an alarming 70% of the current jail population reports having a serious medical, mental health disability, or substance use condition. Over one thousand people per year die in local jails across the country. Half of all deaths of people incarcerated in local jails are the result of some type of illness including heart disease, liver disease, and cancer. As the largest jails system in the world, the Los Angeles County jail system contributes to all of these trends as reported by incarcerated people, their families, and by health workers themselves who provide services in the jails and as loved ones return home. Expansion of the function, scope, geography, or size of the current jail system will continue to result in both the reproduction of these harmful trends and/or the reliance of law enforcement contact and justice system involvement for what has historically proven to be inadequate and harmful “treatment.”
Negative health outcomes in jails disproportionately affect marginalized communities. For example, roughly one out of every three deaths of Black people in local jails is the result of a heart attack which could be prevented in community-based treatment. While Black people make up less than 9% of the Los Angeles County population, Black people constitute 30% of the County jail population and 43% of those incarcerated with a serious mental health disability. Additionally, 75% of incarcerated women in Los Angeles are women of color. In the seven-year period between 2010 and 2016, Black women were sentenced to 5,481 years of jail time for charges that can be solved using public health strategies that build our communities rather than law enforcement which often undermine them. The construction of a women’s jail will exacerbate these trends and other negative health outcomes as incarcerated women of color will be further isolated from their families and communities.
On Febraury 12th, The County has a historic opportunity to break away from the public health crisis of criminalization and incarceration by stopping this jail construction plan and diverting resources towards community-based alternatives that prioritize the dignity and wellbeing of our families and loved ones throughout Los Angeles.