Los Angeles County's plan to retrofit an immigration detention center in Lancaster as a women's jail, long opposed by criminal justice advocates, may not have the votes it needs to move forward.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl issued a statement Monday saying the location of the proposed women's jail at Mira Loma "poses significant, and in my opinion, insurmountable obstacles to our goal of creating a women's jail that is the centerpiece of a gender-responsive corrections system. Mira Loma is too far away from the home communities of the women who would be housed there, and too far away from family members who would need to visit."
Kuehl's statement followed one issued Sunday by Supervisor Hilda Solis.
"Visitation is a huge part of ensuring rehabilitation and reducing recidivism for women," Solis said. "Many of the women who are incarcerated in L.A. County are mothers, and it is crucial that they maintain in-person visits with their children and families."
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Kuehl is asking that a vote planned for Tuesday on the Mira Loma Detention Center be postponed two weeks, but her statement may be the death knell for the project, which requires four votes from the five-member Board of Supervisors for approval.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas issued a statement of his own late Monday.
"While making unprecedented strides in safely diverting youth and adults from the justice system, Los Angeles County remains committed to ensuring those already in custody receive more humane treatment," Ridley-Thomas said. "There is urgency in replacing outdated jails, but we must be confident that any plan to do so prioritizes rehabilitation, healing and family connections. This is particularly important for the growing number of incarcerated women, many of whom have histories of trauma."
The Department of Public Works had recommended approval of a $215 million budget and the award of a design-build construction contract to San Fernando Valley-based Bernards Bros. Inc. to renovate the facility that lies roughly 70 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. The state approved $100 million in funding for the work in 2014.
The board approved the project in concept in 2015, though Solis abstained from the vote and both she and Kuehl called for strategies to overcome the challenges posed by the facility's location. Kuehl said no cohesive plans for transportation, visitation or programming have been created.
Last Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times' editorial board penned an editorial saying the project would "make a mockery of (the board's) commitment to better the lives of women and girls" and urged the supervisors to reconsider the location and put more emphasis on diverting women from jail and into treatment whenever possible.
Though the vote is likely to be postponed, subject matter experts and criminal justice advocates who have protested the plan for years are expected to turn out Tuesday to share their perspectives.
The JusticeLA Coalition plans to rally on the steps of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, one of many times they've gathered to protest the jails plan over the past several years, calling the jail system a public health crisis.
"The jail expansion crisis in Los Angeles is part of a larger pattern of violence and discrimination that disproportionately targets black and brown people, immigrants, poor people and transgender and gender-nonconforming people," said Ezak Perez, executive director of Gender Justice LA. "Trans women are among those most targeted by incarceration and most excluded from life-sustaining services. We are asking the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to stand with the LGBTQ+ community and do the right thing by opposing the construction of a new women's jail in Lancaster."
Kuehl also asked that a vote on the planned $2.2 billion Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility to replace Men's Central Jail be delayed two weeks. DPW has proposed increasing the budget by roughly $30 million and awarding a contract to McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.
Kuehl maintained her support for the men's jail in her statement.
"L.A. County is making progress in its effort to build a culture of rehabilitation. The new Correctional Treatment Facility will improve the treatment and rehabilitation for the mentally ill jail population," she said.