Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Measure R Connects Citizen Oversight of the Sheriff and Inmate Release

Progressives asked the public to trust that arrested people, would show up for whatever interventions follow. We can fix this

Ballot Measure R, also known as Reform LA Jails, will be on the ballot this March. Somewhat confusingly, the measure tackles two disparate issues. The first issue is assuring that the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission will have the power to subpoena documents from the county Sheriff's office without the Sheriff having the power to demur. The second issue the law tackles is to find "alternative options to arrest and incarceration for nonviolent crimes where mental health, substance abuse and chronic homelessness are issues."

Regarding the first aspect of the proposal, advocates who put the measure on the ballot, such as Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Reform LA Jails, claim they want answers to allegations of gross misconduct in the Sheriff's department.

Regarding the second aspect of the proposal, its advocates contend that mentally ill people never need to be locked up.

Last August, Cullors helped convince the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors to cancel their contract to build a mental health facility on the site of today's overcrowded Men's Central Jail. As recently as last February, the Board had cheerfully accepted a $2.2 billion proposal to replace the jail with at least one mental health treatment facility that would house almost 4,000 "inmate patients." At the time, Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuhl already opposed the idea. "It's still a jail," Solis said. "It's still walls."

By August, after evident lobbying by Reform LA Jails and others, the Board voted 4-1 to cancel the contract to build the mental health facility. They said they wanted to investigate ways to use the money instead for smaller care facilities, putting mental health services out into the community.

Cullors and Reform LA Jails agreed. The group seeks to divert criminals with mental health issues to "community based" options. In other words, disturbed criminal individuals would not get locked up. The public is to trust that people who've behaved in a manner sufficiently awful to get arrested - no mean feat nowadays - would show up for whatever interventions have been devised for them by community-based health workers. We're to trust that the county government can, somehow, manage, maintain, and support these dispersed smaller care facilities. They will all be competent, filled with adequate, skilled staff. The disturbed individuals who need these facilities would be able to get to them and would be able to maintain some semblance of an organized life outside of an institution.

It would be nice if the world worked that way.

In a stroke of further naïveté, Measure R asks for a Committee to "calculate the projected reduction in jail population and cost savings from reforms, compared to current policy." We wonder if Reform LA Jails has ever tried paying for a mental health professional or has any idea of the costs of treating even one mildly mentally ill patient, let alone the tens of thousands of severely mentally ill patients who live in our county.

There will be no cost savings.

This does not mean we think society does not need to pony up money to assist the mentally ill. Assuredly, we must. This problem belongs to all of us. However, a sweeping law that releases every criminal onto the streets just because they also happen to be mentally ill will be a disaster for public safety. No matter what access our mentally ill population has to appropriate, skilled mental health professionals, they will not necessarily be able to improve their anti-social behavior. For one thing, the mentally ill need to acknowledge their condition and want to get better. This is not always true. For another, some mental illness is not curable. Sorry. It's true.

Like so many laws in California, Measure R is another feel-good proposal put out by people with good intentions and much naïveté.


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