Four major candidates seeking to replace Zev Yaroslavsky on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday criticized a recently approved $2-billion plan to rebuild the aging Men's Central Jail, saying the project should be changed.
Former Santa Monica council member Bobby Shriver joined other candidates in asserting the current plan focuses too heavily on incarceration as punishment, and not enough on rehabilitation, especially for mentally ill offenders.
"Do you want police officers to be managing mentally ill people? Or do you want psychiatric social workers, people trained in mental health care?" Shriver asked in a debate hosted by radio station KCRW-FM (89.9). "Right now our system is set up to have police officers do that, and the indictment of 19 police officers in the jail shows that's not a good thing for police officers to be doing."
Former state lawmaker Sheila Kuehl, another leading candidate, said she would not have voted for the jail rebuilding plan. If elected, she said she will seek to alter the proposal to divert more mentally ill offenders and low-level offenders whose crimes are related to substance abuse to programs outside the jails.
Kuehl said she thinks even if two new supervisors aren't seated until late December, there's still time to adjust the jail's size and design.
"You can turn something around, actually," she said. "Get the votes."
Last week, the county's elected Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to tear down the deteriorating, downtown central jail and replace it with a double-tower facility with 4,860 beds. Some beds would be geared toward inmates with mental issues and drug and alcohol addictions.
But the candidates uniformly said that the county needs to do a better job in diverting mentally ill offenders from jails into clinical programs. One, former Malibu Mayor Pamela Conley-Ulich, suggested the county board wait until a new sheriff is elected before moving ahead.
"To have one day of hearings on a project that could forever change Los Angeles, we need to give the new sheriff a voice in what he is going to be responsible for,'' she said.
The 30-minute debate was to be aired starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday on KCRW.com and on 89.9 FM
Eight candidates are competing for Yaroslavsky's Westside and San Fernando Valley seat, but four participated in the debate. Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, who represents eastern L.A. county, are being termed out.
Voters in the June 3 primary will also select a new sheriff and assessor. If no one wins a majority, the top two-finishers for each contest will face each other in a November runoff.