Los Angeles County, CA

Change in Jail Population 11%

Action Areas Diversion Mental Health Pretrial Services

Last Updated

Background

Los Angeles County operates the world’s largest jail system, and despite an incarceration rate well below the national average, its jails remain critically overcrowded.

Individuals with mental health needs are overrepresented in Los Angeles County jails and are in need of alternative services and community-based options. In 2016, 25% of the inmate population was receiving some level of mental health treatment.

Because the Los Angeles County jails are critically overcrowded, people in the jail with mental health issues are often too ill to be safely housed in a multi-person cell, causing further crowding in general population housing areas.

Prior to the county’s involvement in the Safety and Justice Challenge, approximately 40% of the inmate population was comprised of pre-trial inmates, those awaiting trial or sentencing. The partially sentenced population, which includes those who were sentenced on one or more cases and maintained open charges in another case or cases, made up approximately 20% of the overall population. This leaves very little jail capacity to hold people convicted of criminal activity and hampers in-custody rehabilitative efforts.

Strategies

Los Angeles County advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just and equitable for all.

01

DIVERSION TO MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

To make sure that people in jails have access to the help that they need at an early intercept point, Los Angeles County created the Rapid Diversion Program, a court-based pre-plea program to help divert people out of jails and connect them to rapid mental health evaluation and service linkage. Many of the program’s participants are homeless, with co-occurring mental health and substance use challenges.

02

TEXT REMINDERS FOR COURT DATES

A text messaging service called Uptrust helps remind people about upcoming court dates to help reduce the number of people who fail to appear at key hearings and ultimately, decrease reliance on incarceration. The solution has been piloted in the community, led by a core group of county staff, including those working in case management.

03

INCREASED COLLABORATION

The team involved with the Safety and Justice Challenge brought together people from across the criminal justice system, government agencies, and community organizations, to discuss the diversion pilot program’s model and progress in reform.

04

RACIAL EQUITY

Increasing racial equity in the criminal justice system is front and center in the Rapid Diversion Program. The county has collaborated with other county agencies and stakeholders to focus attention on racial disparities, and seek out smart, strategic solutions to address them. The program’s focus on equity is in line with the County’s Anti-Racism, Diversity, Inclusion Initiative (ARDI).

Results

As a result of the strategies above, Los Angeles County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Los Angeles County (2016-2021)

10.7% from baseline

More Results

The county’s Rapid Diversion Program started as a pilot in June 2019. Because the original pilot program was so successful in supporting its participants, it has seen multiple phases of expansion, helping people in more areas in Los Angeles County get access to critical resources and support.

From the launch in June 2019 to January 2021, the Rapid Diversion Program supported 134 people. The program had a 0% rearrest rate for graduates of the program. All of the program’s graduated clients were connected to stable housing, job resources, and secured ongoing access to mental health services. The Rapid Diversion Program is also fast: as of January 2021, 68% of participants were being placed in treatment within a week; 42% were placed the same day.

Because of its success, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted in January 2021 to fund expansion of the initial pilot. The Rapid Diversion Program is currently one of the initiatives under the Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) Initiative, which is helping to grow the reach of the program. The ATI Initiative’s goal is to build a more equitable justice infrastructure by expanding rapid diversion program to additional courts, and expanding eligibility to felony offenses, giving judicial officers an alternative to incarceration for individuals residing in communities with the greatest needs.

The impact of the Rapid Diversion Program can best be told through its participants’ experiences. For example, client L. had a degree and a steady job, until his mental health worsened. He lost his job, became homeless and was jailed and arrested multiple times. The pilot program staff interviewed him at a misdemeanor arraignment and were able to place him at an in-patient program with mental health services. L. graduated from the program, and now has a steady job and an apartment by the beach. During a recent interview, he emphasized that without diversion he would still be homeless and cycling in and out of jail.

Remaining Challenges

Los Angeles County is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

First, the County Board of Supervisors (BOS) ordered a part of the County Jail known as “Men’s Central Jail” (MJC) closed within 12 months. That motion was adopted in July 2020, and the jail is currently set to close in 2022.

Referrals to diversion under the pilot program have been limited by the few treatment programs and housing available in the county. The expansion of the Safety and Justice Challenge pilot program will include widening the availability of services and housing in the catchment areas of courthouses involved.

In addition, racial and ethnic disparities have continued to persist in the local jail despite the reduction in the jail population. The solutions in place now are designed to address deep, systemic changes that will create equity in the long-term.

Cultural change with regard to the county’s over-reliance on jails will be slow. By allowing access to the pilot program and other ways to allow safe release of individuals from jails, stakeholders in the justice system are working to change the local culture that has long viewed jails as a solution to community problems that have deep socioeconomic causes. Los Angeles County is shifting to treatment rather than punishment, leading with the strategy “care first, jails last.”

Last, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the county’s local justice system and continues to uniquely affect those incarcerated in local jails. The foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies, including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies, has set the county up well to respond to the pandemic effectively.

Lead Agency

Los Angeles County Public Defenders Office

Contact Information

Ramon Quintana

Partners

Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI), Alternate Public Defender, Department of Mental Health, Los Angeles City Attorney, Los Angeles County District Attorney, Project 180

Follow @lapubdef

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