District Attorney: LA will still need new jail, even with reduction of mentally ill

Jackie Lacey addresses the audience after she is sworn-in as Los Angeles's new district attorney Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. She becomes the first new top prosecutor in a dozen years and the first woman and first African-American to hold the post since it was created in 1850. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Jackie Lacey addresses the audience after she is sworn-in as Los Angeles's new district attorney Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. She becomes the first new top prosecutor in a dozen years and the first woman and first African-American to hold the post since it was created in 1850. (AP Photo/Nick Ut) Nick Ut/AP

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey on Wednesday unveiled her plan to divert mentally ill offenders out of jail and into rehabilitation. But, she also told the county Board of Supervisors that she still believes a new jail should be built to replace the aging Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.

"It's broken down. It's unfit - even if you're not mentally ill," she said. "It definitely needs to be replaced."

She was responding to a question by Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who has a keen interest in public safety issues.

"There is, without a doubt, a section of those who are mentally ill who are violent and dangerous, who should be in that setting," she said. The proposed $2 billion replacement jail "will allow us to treat them more humanely, provide more resources for them."

Lacey's report was prepared by Policy Research Associates, a consultant firm and it identified various steps along the process where the mentally ill can be treated.

It detailed a series of reforms, including adapting and expanding current mental health programs and creating a resource center and teams within the courts and jails to spot low-level mentally-ill candidates who need treatment, rather than jail time.

It's part of her larger plan to change the way lower-level offenders are handled by law enforcement. The county's current system forces most offenders into jail.

She said diversion programs cost much less than mass incarceration and many efforts around the country have low recidivism rates.

Dozens of community activists spoke at Wednesday's meeting praising the diversion plan. But they described the new jail as counterproductive.

"There is a revolving door between Skid Row and L.A. County Jails and prisons," said Cue Jn-Marie, a pastor from Skid Row's Church Without Walls.  "Since the mental clinics were closed, we have ignored the mentally ill who live on the streets of Skid Row."

He told the board that the new jail would eventually be filled with the mentally ill.

The board did not make any funding decisions after hearing the report. That's expected to come before the board in early 2015.

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