County officials move to close Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A., invest in health care-based responses

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to initiate a plan to close the Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A. within the year, officials said.

The panel vowed “to reinvest any savings from closing the facility towards health-based responses that improve both health and public safety outcomes for our communities,” said a statement from Supervisor Hilda Solis’ office.

“LA County is prioritizing our ‘care first, jails last’ approach to criminal justice to demonstrate our commitment to racial and economic justice,” said Solis, who co-authored the proposal with Sheila Kuehl. “Closing Men’s Central Jail will restore dignity to our communities. … Providing more permanent supportive housing units where individuals can receive community-based mental health care will give people hope for a new beginning.”

Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said shutting down the jail, which has more than 1,000 single-occupancy cells for inmates deemed to require high security, would lead to the overpopulation of other county facilities.

“There is no other jail facility that we have that can house the most violent, the most dangerous people that will harm the public,” Villanueva said. “We can’t just transfer them to a village where all these very quaint settings they’re talking about. It’s impossible.”

In 2019, the county board rejected plans to replace the nearly 60-year-old facility and instead committed to care for those who are ill, according to the motion approved Tuesday.

The proposal described the Men’s Central Jail design as flawed, saying it contributed to the county’s inability to provide medical and mental health care.

In March, the board approved a new office to explore programs that could replace detention when possible. The supervisors unanimously voted to establish a fund for the so-called Office of Alternatives to Incarceration on Tuesday.

“After decades of a punishment-based community safety strategy that often incarcerated people who were struggling with poverty, homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse, LA County is on the road to creating a ‘care first, jails last’ system,” Kuehl said in a statement.

Tuesday’s votes came as protesters across the U.S. push for law enforcement reform.

Advocates praised the county’s move and credited the thousands of public comments submitted to the Board of Supervisors.

In a tweet, the group JusticeLA said: “Last year, the Board was about to move forward with the construction of 2 new jails, but thanks to the work of our communities we are now on the brink of CLOSING one of the largest, most dangerous jails in the country!”

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