The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has just approved a two-year plan that entails closing the Men’s Central Jail. The goal of this plan is to lessen the jail population by a few thousand. Since this plan was devised in 2021, there has been little progress in decreasing the number of people in custody.
According to the LA Times, the total jail population is still close to 14,000. The Men’s Central Jail is still open and there are no improvements happening. The board, however, is faced with another task: considering a motion that would declare the county jails a “humanitarian crisis.” This motion has been quite unpopular amongst those in justice reform and law enforcement. According to critics, the motion lacks deadlines for the shutdown and the county does not need fewer jails, but instead more modern jails. A declaration of humanitarian crisis is perhaps the best way to bring immediate attention to decreasing the jail population.
If passed, the county would have to find solutions with more urgency. LA Times examines a proposed solution involving local law enforcement using a “cite-and-release system.” This would allow people to walk free after specific minor arrests instead of being processed into jail. Another proposed solution was withdrawing bail on specific minor offenses. There were many other ideas in the motion surrounding increasing more pretrial releases with electronic monitoring, or more compassionate releases.
Melissa Camacho, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California states that if the county had adopted the original plan, instead of focusing on decaling a humanitarian crisis, “they would be moving to proclaim victory.” Richard Pippin, president of the deputy’s sheriffs group says that the “motion represents a confusing mix of ideas.” Pippin also says that in today’s reality, there is a greater need for modern jails for those “who pose a threat to our society.”
In favor of the motion, Sam Lewis, a former prisoner now executive director of Anti-Recidivism Coalition, says that pulling the motion is a loss to those that are currently facing incarceration. According to Lewis, “the motion could have opened up that possibility for some of them.”
There are those that focus on this motion’s imperfections and do not support the declaration of a humanitarian crisis, and people like Lewis who see this motion as a step toward change. Focusing on what could have been and the board’s lack of initiative toward their original 2021 plan is not productive.
After two years of not making much progress, this motion represents what can be done to help the county jail crisis. Removing the motion puts the county at a standstill with no progress being made. This acknowledgment of LA’s incarceration crisis will force the county to give this problem the attention it desperately needs.