L.A. County supervisors advance new department to centralize justice reform efforts

People are held at Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles.
People are held at Men’s Central Jail, which L.A. County supervisors aim to eventually close.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Hoping to further its goal of overhauling the county’s justice system and ultimately closing Men’s Central Jail, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors moved forward Tuesday with the creation of a department to centralize recently enacted programs to develop alternatives to incarceration while expanding community services to divert people out of the jail system.

The board directed the county chief executive to report back in 90 days with an organization and staffing plan for the Justice, Care and Opportunities Department, which would become a centralized home for various programs created in the last few years in support of the county’s Care First, Jails Last initiative.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl told her colleagues that she was proud of the work done over the last eight years to support programs searching for alternatives to incarceration.


“But if we stop for a moment of critical reflection, we have to really acknowledge that process is not the same as progress,” Kuehl said. “And what we need now is progress, we need movement…. It’s time to make things happen, and to do that, in my humble opinion, we have to improve our county infrastructure.”

The requested plan will include a blueprint for the activities of various programs that would be under the new agency’s umbrella, including the Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative, the Jail Closure Implementation Team and the Office of Adult Programs, which will “centralize all prevention, pretrial and reentry services for adults” and include a unit to service “transition-age youth.”

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is exploring what it would take to close the dilapidated Men’s Central Jail within a year.

July 8, 2020

County staff will also report back on issues such as where the new agency will be based, an estimate on costs and a timeline for its implementation.

The board also requested a separate report on the planned July introduction of the Department of Youth Development and how it will work in conjunction with the new Justice, Care and Opportunities Department. It also asked for a report on the development of a Justice Advisory Board.

In her motion calling for advancement in creating the new department, Kuehl hailed the work already done by the county to begin the process of revamping the justice system. But she said more steps are needed before the process can truly advance.

“Unfortunately, as this hard work has progressed, it has become clear that standing up programs and housing advisory bodies through multiple departments has not integrated service delivery to the extent needed to achieve true justice reform,” the motion states. “The system that is meant to serve the most vulnerable becomes too cumbersome to deliver the integrated, holistic services that our county residents need. Ultimately, we end up with a department-driven and overly bureaucratic approach to service delivery instead of a person-centric approach.”


It appears the most potent foil in the Los Angeles mayor’s race is Dist. Atty. George Gascón.

Feb. 28, 2022

Kuehl wrote that the current organizational structure “has resulted in a fractured and siloed bureaucracy.”

“This board should establish an umbrella entity that braids together Care First, Jails Last service delivery and advisory bodies into a cohesive team that is supported by a common mission and an administrative support structure that facilitates person and equity-centric service delivery,” her motion states.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger opposed the motion, saying she still had concerns about the framework being proposed for the new agency. But the proposal earned support from the other board members.

“This is the big picture, but I hope we all are committed as well to making sure we have the right department head for this department, and the right county employees to staff this department,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said. “Because the last thing I want this department to be is bureaucratic and have a bunch of red tape that does not allow for our vision to continue to support and nurture those in L.A. County who will most benefit by this department.”