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Letters to the Editor: Jail drives sane people insane. So why do we let mentally ill inmates languish?

Arm, some bearing tattoos, reach out from behind bars
In June 2021, about 40% of inmates in Los Angeles County jails had a mental illness. Above, inmates inside Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A. in 2019.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
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To the editor: Severely mentally ill people do not belong in jail or prison. This is not an environment for healing. The isolation, discounting and desolation drive sane people insane. (“After more than six years of federal oversight, dangerous problems persist in L.A. County jails,” Jan. 15)

Your print subheadline says, “Six years after federal intervention, county inmates remain isolated, untreated.” This also comes several decades after then-Gov. Ronald Reagan oversaw the closure of state mental institutions and abandoned the promised community alternatives, and after a shameful history of atrocities of maltreatment before that.

It can be different.

If we let ourselves care about one another, the will to follow through will grow and real solutions will manifest; we’ll create a healthier society. The truth is, not one single life is disposable.

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Leah Sullivan, Pasadena

The writer is a former board member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ San Gabriel Valley chapter.

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To the editor: Mental illness is a chronic illness, as is diabetes or high blood pressure, and yet people with mental illness are treated abysmally in the United States. Not only is there difficulty in accessing services, but there is also an insufficient number of inpatient beds for mentally ill people who need to be hospitalized.

So, Los Angeles County jails have together become that biggest “hospital” for mentally ill people in the area. The jails house more than 5,000 people who have been incarcerated for mainly lower-level offenses, many driven by their illnesses.

Six years ago, the county Sheriff’s Department reached a settlement with the federal government to provide regular treatment, safe housing and time outside cells for mentally ill inmates. The county is not in compliance, so people who have diseases of the brain are left to languish untreated.

How many years will it take for mentally ill people in this country to be treated humanely instead of being incarcerated and abandoned?

Deborah R. Ishida, MD, Beverly Hills

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