In February 2019, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion that called for leaders from the justice system and health departments as well as community experts to form an Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group to develop an action-oriented framework and implementation plan to scale alternatives to incarceration and diversion so care and services are provided first and jail is a last resort. This action-oriented framework is expected to be complete in 9 months and to outline how to increase the availability of treatment options and alternatives; the kind of programs and facilities needed to scale diversion and a plan for how to establish such facilities; staffing and funding recommendations; and recommendations for legislative changes that would be needed to support these diversion efforts.
That is the historic task before the Work Group.
There are 25 voting members of the Working Group. Ad Hoc Committees, open to the public, were formed, and include Data and Research, Community Engagement, Community Based System of Care, Funding, and Justice System Reform.
In 2015, LA County took its first steps to explore and develop diversion programs with the District Attorney’s (DA) 2015 report “Blueprint for Change,” and the Board of Supervisors’ establishment of the Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR). Since that time, through a variety of diversion programs, the courts have diverted approximately 4,000 people through pre-trial and mental health diversion programs, and ODR has successfully diverted an additional 3,000 men and women.
Within this same time frame, LA County has also invested in the creation of a division within ODR to expand youth diversion, has expanded Mental Evaluation Teams which pair law enforcement with mental health clinicians, opened psychiatric urgent care centers, developed a sobering center, and most recently, established a Mental Health Division within the DA’s office, the first such division of its kind in a prosecutor’s office in California. The County has also begun drafting plans for restorative care villages located around the County to provide mental health crisis care and physical recuperative care to individuals who might otherwise end up on our streets; and The County is building an innovative multi-departmental behavioral health center that will provide a wide variety of new mental health and substance use treatment services on one of our largest health campuses.
Throughout these efforts, the County has been informed and supported by individuals with lived experience, community and advocacy organizations and their members, and academic researchers. Their input continues to be of great value.
Now we are ready to scale these successful programs and launch additional programs to ensure that we have the ability to divert and provide alternative sentencing options to men and women who would be more effectively treated in a diversion context rather than in a jail. Successful expansion of our diversion system will allow the County to meet the stated goal of the Board of Supervisors to provide “treatment first and jail as a last resort.”