Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez took at trip to the Los Angeles County jail and found all the evidence he needed to show why housing the mentally ill in jail cells is a mistake:
Clearly, locking these men up over and over again isn't working, and it isn't cheap. But it's what the system has been doing for years in Los Angeles County and in jails and prisons across the country.
Therapists know it. Judges know it, because they see the same offenders churn through their courtrooms, many of them for drug possession and minor offenses in which the underlying cause is often a mental illness. And jailers surely know it, though the problem is not of their making or of any other single agency's.
"We're on the same page here," sheriff's Cmdr. David Fender said Monday when I met with him and mental health officials at the jail. "The entire leadership" of the Sheriff's Department "believes we've got to do something about this.
"No doubt, so what's the plan?
The county Board of Supervisors is pushing ahead, after years of delay, with plans to update jail facilities in hopes of fending off possible federal intervention following myriad reports of inmate abuse and deplorable conditions. Earlier this year, the supes hired a consultant to make proposals for demolishing the dungeon-like Men's Central Jail, building a new facility in its place and updating other detention centers. At Tuesday's board meeting, five proposals were aired, including construction of a jail devoted entirely to inmates with medical and mental health problems.
But would that be a new direction, or the same failed strategy in a new and improved building? Even when inmates get counseling and meds in jail, the majority of them leave with no long-term recovery plan or supervision on the outside, so guess where they end up."
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