County supervisors could vote on jail plan; sheriff candidate says wait

Inside the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles in August 2012.
Inside the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles in August 2012.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County supervisors are slated to discuss a proposed $2-billion overhaul of the county jail system Tuesday and could vote to move forward with one of the construction options laid out in a consultant’s report.

Vanir Construction Management laid out five options in a report released last month. All involve tearing down the aging Men’s Central Jail and replacing it with a new facility focused on mental health and drug treatment programs. Most of the proposals also involve creating a new women’s jail.

County officials have voiced fears that the federal government will intervene if they don’t act to improve conditions for mentally ill inmates.

The supervisors are not required to decide on a plan Tuesday, but county Supervisor Gloria Molina said Monday that she and Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich will ask their colleagues to vote to select one of the options proposed by Vanir.


That option would entail building a new two-towered building next to the old Men’s Central Jail and setting up a new women’s jail at the vacant Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster.

Advocates have criticized the board for hiring a construction firm to decide how to handle the county’s jail population and said the board should first look for ways to divert mentally ill offenders from jail. In a letter to the board, the National Alliance on Mental Illness asked the supervisors to hold off picking a jail plan until a criminal justice and mental health task force convened by Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey completes its work.

Some of the candidates running to be the next sheriff have also argued that the board should wait until a new top cop and two new county supervisors take office in December before making any decisions.

Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, a candidate for the sheriff’s post who has drawn widespread support from county officials, said Tuesday that he thinks the supervisors should wait until after the election and spend more time looking at ways to divert the mentally ill from county jails before deciding on a plan.

“I’m happy we’re moving forward and there’s an interest in replacing Men’s Central Jail, because it certainly needs to be replaced,” he said. “My fear is that we’re moving too quickly without including enough stakeholders and subject matter experts.”

Molina said deciding on a construction option is only the first step in a long process and that replacing the jail is “inevitable” for whoever takes office. “They’re going to have to replace the jail, whether they like it or not,” she said. “If we don’t do it, the [Department of Justice] is going to make us do it.”