LA County Supervisor Withdraws Proposal to ‘Depopulate' Jails

A motion had suggested a long list of policy changes to immediately reduce the number of people in custody, just as LA County faces litigation and a contempt accusation over poor conditions and the treatment of those with mental illness.

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LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis withdrew a motion Monday that sought to drastically reduce the number of people locked up in County jails, including a proposal to return to a Covid-19 pandemic-like nearly 'no-bail' state, in which most people arrested were immediately released from custody.

The motion, introduced by Solis and Lindsay Horvath, said the County should "depopulate and de-carcerate" by, in part, directing the agencies with control of the jail and its inmates, the LA County Superior Court and the Sheriff's Department, to consider releasing all of those serving felony and misdemeanor sentences, "who can be safely released back into the community," amidst a long list of other possibilities.

It was introduced just as the County faces the prospect of a contempt finding in one of three lawsuits being heard in federal court over poor jail conditions and the treatment of those suffering from mental illness.

The motion, which had been set to be heard at the Board's public meeting Tuesday, also proposed to release everyone arrested with bail set at $50,000 or less, including those accused of domestic violence, and an effort to encourage state officials to send fewer people serving prison terms to County jails, something required after the passage of state prison reform initiatives.

Two other Supervisors, Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn, sent written statements in opposition, both citing concerns over endangering public safety with a release of inmates en masse.

"I do support balanced reform efforts but not at the expense of community safety," said Barger, who has supported discussions about building more modern jail facilities with more built-in mental health treatment space.

"Men’s Central Jail must be replaced by a thoughtfully planned secure rehabilitative facility that can deliver substance abuse and mental health services desperately needed by the individuals it serves. Over 40% of our incarcerated population is mentally ill — those needs must be addressed if we aim to cultivate a safer county," she said.

The Horvath-Solis motion would need 3 votes to pass, if reintroduced.

Solis said in a new statement Monday that she referred the motion back to her office for further consideration, after she heard from a, "variety of stakeholders."

"Those who feel the motion is not doing enough and those who feel it is doing too much," the statement said.

The LA County Police Chief's Association sent a letter to the Board in opposition to any quick action, saying that a more thoughtful public discussion was needed.

"We are hopeful, at some point, to address our numerous concerns directly with the BOS before any implementation related to this motion," the letter said.

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