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Advocacy Groups Call L.A. County Mental Health Jails ‘Potential Death Traps’
By Jennifer Bihm, Contributing Writer
Published July 18, 2019

A proposed revamping of Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles would include a new mental health center, something Black Lives Matter co founder Patrisse Cullors and other advocates call “potential death traps” (AP file photo)

Black Lives Matter co founder Patrisse Cullors along with advocacy group Reform L.A. Jails, launched the #CancelMcCarthyContract campaign this month, in an effort to stave off Los Angeles County’s proposed Mental Health Jail to be built downtown. Last year, county supervisors approved $2.2 billion to be earmarked for a replacement Men’s Central, with an added focus on mental health and rehabilitation, noting that 70 percent of the county jail’s population were physically or mentally ill. However, said Cullors, all is not what it seems.

“On June 24, 2019, Sachi Hamai, CEO of Los Angeles County, pitched a jail plan that three out of two of the LA County Board members voted for,” Cullors explained.

“The board decided to start paying McCarthy Building Companies nearly $30 million dollars to begin designing LA County’s 8th jail. To date, the company has built ‘healthcare’ jails and prisons that have a low success rate — like the location in Stockton, California. People have died in these facilities, and the aforementioned jail they built in Stockton is under investigation due to the uninhabitable conditions, with the Corrections Department Inspector General giving the McCarthy built jail an ‘nadequate’ rating…”

So far, Black Lives Matter, in partnership with other community organizations and grassroots groups, have collected more than 246, 000 signatures to put an initiative to “Reform L.A. County Jails” on the ballot on March 3, 2020. Via a news release in February, county supervisors said they would vote in favor of replacing Men’s Central with a mental health treatment center. The new center, they said, will be operated by the Department of Health and Human Services and will be staffed by the Department of Mental Health..

“The mental health treatment center would be a treatment-centric facility focused on healing, not punishment,” they said.

But Cullors and other advocacy groups are calling these proposed centers “death trap jails in disguise”. The new centers would put mental health patients in further danger, she said. The one in Northern California has already experienced problems.

“It [was] so bad that one prisoner ate their eyeballs, which is so disturbing to have to utter,” Cullors said.

“I feel very bad for the people of Stockton, who have to deal with this behemoth of a building in their community.”

More of the same will happen in L.A. she said, if the McCarthy contract goes through.

“[We want] to see L.A. County officials call of their plan to see thousands with mental health issues criminalized,” she said.

Cullors own brother who suffered from mental illness was beaten by Los Angeles county sheriffs, an incident that could have been avoided she said, if mental health issues were handled better by law enforcement.

“Reform LA Jails and Community Reinvestment ballot initiative believes that money spent on building a new jail could be put to better use on priorities in the county like decentralized mental health care facilities,” said RLAJ officials.

“More importantly, LA County deserves the right to vote on their important initiatives before lawmakers move forward with building more jails. Thousands of Angelinos have spoken and they want care not cages.”

“We have spent almost two decades demanding for our communities to be treated with care and dignity. It’s an utter shame that two CEOs hold the fate of the most marginalized communities-poor and disabled,” said Cullors.

“Sachi Hamai and Mike Bolen need to cancel the McCarthy contract now, and the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors should wait until the people of LA can vote on what we want for people with mental illness. We don’t want McCarthy Construction to build death traps and we must stop them.”

If the initiative is successful, “LA County will invest in rehabilitation and mental health treatment, reduce the jail population and provide stronger oversight to prevent the abuses that have plagued the LA County system. This campaign is crucial and pertinent to address now because before voters have an opportunity to weigh in next year in March, LA County lawmakers are determined to build more jails,” advocates said.

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