Los Angeles County Cancels Mental Health Jail Project

By Lisa Kopochinski

LOS ANGELES, Calif.—In early August, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to cancel a nearly $2 billion contract to build a mental health-focused jail. Instead, a funding community-based mental health and substance abuse care for residents will be explored.

In February, the board voted to replace the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles with a facility that combined jail custody with mental health services for incarcerated people.

According to courthousenews.com, officials had approved a $1.7 billion design-build contract with McCarthy Building Companies for the Mental Health Treatment Center—a proposed 4,000-bed facility.

Reportedly, the county has long sought to demolish and replace this jail. However, supervisors reworked their plan after facing pressure over the past 10 years from jail reform advocates, who demanded a “care first” approach that diverts jail funding into community-based health programs.

Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a statement that the county will work to embrace the “care first, jail last” approach.

“Men’s Central Jail must be demolished, but we must replace it within a criminal justice system that includes a modern, decentralized countywide continuum of non-custody community-based care facilities.”

Solis added that the county should investigate how it can expand on efforts it began in 2015 to divert eligible individuals out of jail and into health and housing support programs.

A county report was also cited that found that 56% of people with serious mental illness in the jails could qualify for diversion into community-based programs.

Mike Myers, president of McCarthy Southern California, said in a statement that the company respects the board’s “decision to see its current and ongoing studies impacting facility configuration through to completion,” adding that the move is “a thoughtful exercise in patience and due diligence to ensure the county of Los Angeles makes the best decision for handling this project and exploration of new directions.”