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L.A. County to study demolishing part of Men's Central Jail

Supervisors are weighing a new facility for prisoners who are mentally ill or addicted to drugs that could save millions of dollars.

May 21, 2013|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times
  • Deputies work in a secure section of the Men's Central Jail. As many as 70% of all inmates in the county’s roughly 23,600-bed jail system are addicted to drugs or suffer from mental illness, according to estimates.
Deputies work in a secure section of the Men's Central Jail. As many… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles County supervisors unanimously approved a plan Tuesday to study tearing down part of the Men's Central Jail and replacing it with a facility designed for mentally ill and drug-addicted prisoners.

The new facility could save the county millions of dollars and offer inmates a better chance of rehabilitation, according to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who proposed the idea. Yaroslavsky has opposed earlier plans to spend up to $1.4 billion to renovate or replace the Men's Central Jail and the adjacent Twin Towers Jail.

"I am open ... to doing something that costs money if it stands a chance of actually producing results and getting a good product out the door and not just warehousing people," he said.

As many as 70% of all inmates in the county's roughly 23,600-bed jail system are addicted to drugs or suffer from mental illness, according to estimates. By putting many of them in a central location, it will be easier to provide services and house them efficiently, Yaroslavsky said.

Currently, inmates with some mental illnesses or medical conditions must be isolated from others and are often kept alone in cells designed for two people. In a new facility, they could be put in one-person cells, freeing up more space in other jails.

Advocacy groups said Yaroslavsky's proposal was an improvement over earlier plans but they urged county officials to spend more money on community-based rehabilitation programs.

By July, a consultant will give the board estimates on what the new facility might cost.

"The devil is most certainly in the details of this," Yaroslavsky said.

jason.song@latimes.com

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