What is the Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) Work Group?

The Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group was established through a motion by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on February 12, 2019. (Read the motion here.) The mission of the Work Group is to provide the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors a road map, with 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.

Who sits on the ATI Work Group?

The ATI’s 26 voting members include two community stakeholders appointed from each of the five supervisorial districts as well as representatives from 16 individual county departments overseeing matters of health, criminal justice, and social services.

What is the interim report?

The interim report indicates to the Board the direction in which the Work Group intends to take the next phase of the work. It gives a broad overview of the kinds of recommendations that the final report will develop into an implementation plan. No Board action is required from the interim report.

What’s in the interim report?

The interim report contains 14 goals under five broad categories that include more than 100 individual strategies. The five categories are Community Based Systems of Care, Justice System Reform, Community Engagement, Data and Research, and Funding.

Throughout the report, the recommendations return again and again to these core themes:

  • Expand, scale, and increase community-based, holistic and residential care and services through sustainable and equitable community capacity-building and service coordination
  • Avoid law enforcement response to individuals experiencing homelessness, mental health, and/or substance use disorders
  • Support pretrial release and diversion into holistic services
  • Provide alternative placements into effective treatment and services, instead of jail time
  • Provide meaningful engagement and compensation for people directly impacted by the justice system in the pursuit of needed solutions

Why those five categories?

Community Based Systems of Care: promoting decentralized models of care can match people with substance use and mental health disorders to services near where they live while expanding the capacity of providers across the county and building an initiative to coordinate resources

Justice System Reform: shifting from a punitive approach to a public health and trauma-informed approach can use County resources more effectively, keep people safe, result in healthier, safer responses to people with behavioral health needs, and break a vicious circle that traps people with mental health and substance use disorders moving between jail and homelessness and emergency rooms instead of returning to their communities.

Community Engagement: engaging the people most impacted by the justice system to elevate their voices in expanding and scaling up alternatives to incarceration

Funding: beginning the work now of finding and leveraging streams of resources that can support scaling up the recommended strategies of the ATI Work Group

Data and Research: expanding justice data transparency will improve agencies’ accountability to the community

Why do we need “alternatives to incarceration”?

Across the United States, communities have found that jailing people with serious clinical needs such as mental and substance use disorders is both harmful to those people and their communities. Innovative programs, including some underway in Los Angeles County, have found that getting people the treatment and care they need in their communities reduces crime and promotes health.

What is the Work Group’s opinion on building the mental health jail?

The interim report does not address jail or hospital construction. The Work Group includes community advocates and county representatives with many perspectives on the proposed facility. While the interim report’s recommendations are not final, they do prioritize decentralized systems of care that would allow people with mental health or substance use disorders to receive care near where they live, in keeping with this Board motion, passed concurrently to the one that initiated the Work Group, that requested reports on such a decentralized care network.

Will implementing these recommendations release dangerous people from jail?

Almost half of all people in the LA County Jail are pretrial – meaning that they have not been convicted of any crime.

Throughout Los Angeles, many people with mental health and substance use disorders cycle between jail, emergency rooms and temporary housing or homelessness. Making available as-needed community-based mental health and substance use treatment, stable housing, and addressing the social determinants of health is safer and a better use of public funds than letting them bounce between jail and the streets.

Prioritizing care over jail (or arrest, per certain recommendations) can eliminate tense interactions with law enforcement officers and keep everyone safer. The recommendations describe a system where we stop relying on the justice system to solve social crises. The status quo, where people in need of care are removed from the community and return to it without meaningful treatment, does not promote community safety.

What are “the social determinants of health”?

Health risks and outcomes are shaped by living conditions. Poverty and racism limit opportunities to learn, work, live in peace, stability and safety and eat healthy foods. These factors are known as the social determinants of health.

What happens next?

The ATI Work Group is meeting monthly from June to December 2019, and is finalizing recommendations and developing implementation plans, assessing them for feasibility as well as racial equity, and incorporating feedback from the communities most impacted by incarceration through a series of community meetings, with the goal of presenting a final report to the Board of Supervisors at the end of the year.