In what’s billed as a first step toward slashing the population of county jails, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, April 4, voted to begin the process of establishing 500 secure mental health care beds to accommodate the most seriously ill county jail inmates.
The ultimate objective is to create “care-first settings which would allow for those with serious mental illness to stabilize and recover — a process which is increasingly difficult in an overcrowded jail setting,” according to the board motion by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn.
“Too many people who are locked up in our jails have serious mental illness and are suffering and decompensating instead of receiving the treatment they need,” Hahn said in a statement following the vote. “These 500 beds in secure mental health facilities will allow us to better treat people with the most severe mental health needs while preserving public safety.”
According to the motion, more than 1,700 inmates, or roughly 12% of the jail’s population, are considered among the most seriously mental ill, categorized as P3 or P4. Category P3 individuals are those “who are hurting themselves and prone to recurrent violence” and “cannot be safely or adequately treated in a setting that requires independent control of their behavior,” according to the board motion. P4 individuals present a danger of “harm to themselves and others” and are “prone to refuse treatment and extremely disorganized thinking and behavior.”
The 500 beds will be prioritized for inmates in both categories.
The motion also directs the Department of Health Services, the Department of Diversion and Re-entry, the Department of Mental Health, the District Attorney and public defenders to work with the Chief Executive Office to develop a budget for the beds, including proposed staffing, and report back with a list of funding available from state and federal sources.
“We have people entering in and out of homelessness, cycling in and out of our jails, filling our already crowded emergency departments and our jails becoming de facto mental health facilities — none of this promotes public safety or rehabilitation and recovery,” Solis said in a statement. “To truly become a `care first’ county, we must expand the assets in our community to support our most vulnerable residents.”