Patience with the new jail

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors should not rush to approve construction of a new prison before a new sheriff gets elected. He should have a say in the matter, deciding the characteristics of the jail under his supervision.

Today the board will analyze five proposals that were presented as options for the new prison, at a cost between $1.97 billion and $2.32 billion. The problem with these projects is that they continue the policy of warehousing thousands of inmates with mental issues in jail. Every plan adds thousands of additional beds in response to federal requirements to provide adequate treatment to mentally ill prisoners.

Los Angeles is one of many cities that in recent decades have seen an increase in the number of inmates with mental health issues, addictions or who are medicated. Mistreatment of this growing population is one of the numerous problems that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department faces, leading to the possibility of a consent decree similar to the one that the Los Angeles Police Department had for several years.

Some counties, like Miami-Dade County, have tackled this challenge and decreased the number of mentally ill inmates by redirecting individuals who are not dangerous to local treatment programs. Taking them out of the justice system has proven to be less expensive and drastically cut the degree of recidivism.

On the other hand, the candidates for Los Angeles sheriff have expressed support for a less prison-focused approach to manage inmates with mental illnesses, in disagreement with the projects presented to the Board of Supervisors. This is a long-term project that does not need rushed decisions.

Given all that, we think that the board should consider changes and alternatives to the projects and include the next sheriff elect’s opinion. That way, the country can manage inmates with mental illnesses in a more constructive manner that does not subject them to abuse and gets them on the road to rehabilitation, tackling the serious problem of recidivism and benefiting public safety.