The debate over incarceration vs. diversion for mentally-ill inmates is one that has been going on for years in Los Angeles, and can be traced back to 1997, when the federal government conducted a number of probes on conditions for mentally-ill inmates locked up in L.A. County.
Today, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors is continuing a discussion about whether to build a new jail which would specifically inmates in need of correctional rehabilitation for issues like mental health or drug addiction. With billions of dollars at stake, supporters are saying the jail would drastically improve conditions for mentally-ill inmates by creating a facility focused specifically on their needs. Opponents argue the money might be better used elsewhere, possibly to create more diversion programs for the mentally-ill.
Is it worth it for the county to spend this money on building a jail for mentally-ill inmates or is there a better way to improve conditions for mentally-ill inmates?
Terri McDonald, Assistant Sheriff of Custody Operations for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. She also spent 24 years with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Peter Eliasberg, legal director at the ACLU of Southern California. He co-authored a report this past July called “A Way Forward: Diverting People with Mental Illness from Inhumane and Expensive Jails into Community-Based Treatment that Works”