Breaking the Cycle of Incarceration and Homelessness

Los Angeles County leaders announced the expansion of a groundbreaking program that diverts mentally ill inmates from jail and provides them with intensive case management and supportive housing. They also released a study showing how many more individuals can be helped by this program while improving public safety and saving public funds.

Called ODR Housing, the program operated by the County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry has diverted 1,728 people from jail since 2016. Participants receive permanent supportive housing and long-term intensive case management to ensure their ongoing medical and mental healthcare needs are met, making communities safer and breaking the cycle between jail and homelessness.

Previously, diversion from jail into case management and housing was available only to people whose cases were heard in the Superior Court’s downtown LA Central District. But at the request of the Court, cases will be heard in two courthouses serving nine districts beginning April 2019. By the end of the year, mentally ill inmates from all over the County may be eligible for treatment and services instead of jail. 

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with ODR Housing program participant Stephen Baker. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

“Over the last three years, we have proven that diverting people with mental health disorders from jail into treatment and supportive housing makes communities safer. It also breaks the cycle between the criminal justice system and homelessness, and saves public funds,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion to create ODR. “Today we are taking the important step of expanding this program to every courthouse in Los Angeles County. By doubling down on diversion, we have the potential to reach thousands more individuals countywide without compromising public safety.”

“With the guidance and support offered by ODR’s program, I transitioned from incarceration to interim housing in October of 2016,”  ODR Housing program participant Stephen Baker said. “I began getting counseling, receiving medication, and working with a primary doctor to manage my health issues. For the first time, I learned about having a healthy state of mind and felt like I had real support.”

Currently one-third of the men in LA County jail suffer from mental illness. As of February 2019, the jail mental health population was counted at 5,134, out of an overall jail population of 16,621. A new report from the Department of Health Services shows that the ODR Housing program can break the cycle between jail and homelessness for thousands more people than previously thought—56% of that jail mental health population, or nearly 2,900 people. 

“Prosecutors take an oath to protect our community and public safety is our number one priority.  We also want to make sure that jails and prisons are reserved for the most serious and violent offenders,” said District Attorney Jackie Lacey. “In the past, some people have served more time behind bars due to their untreated mental illness and, as a result, they experienced further mental deterioration.  For that reason, my office is working closely with the Office of Diversion and Reentry to ensure that my prosecutors are making informed decisions that not only keep the public safe but also assist people in getting services they need to be healthy members of our community.” 

“When a public defender has a mentally ill client facing incarceration and resolves the case with the client receiving the care and housing he needs to return to society —that’s real, tangible progress. That’s the holistic advocacy that I as Public Defender hope one day soon becomes business as usual across the county,” said Public Defender Ricardo Garcia. “We need to see the whole person and work in interdisciplinary teams to address both the immediate case and the client’s underlying life circumstances — drug addiction, mental illness, family or housing instability — that contributed to the person’s contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.”

“The Office of Diversion and Reentry has successfully provided much needed treatment to many of our clients, which helps stop the cycle of recidivism and we look forward to ODR being able to provide needed services to many more people through these new hubs,” said Erika Anzoategui, Acting Alternate Public Defender for LA County.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with ODR Housing program participant Stephen Baker, LA County Health Services Director Christina Ghaly, LA County Probation Chief Sheila McDonald, and LA County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, and DIstrict Attorney Jackie Lacey. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

In addition to increasing public safety and improving individual outcomes, ODR’s supportive housing program shifts public expenditures away from expensive hospital and jail costs into treatment and community care. The program costs an estimated $26,000 per participant per year—about $70/day. While comparative cost studies are still underway, incarceration facility costs can reach many times higher, and the addition of mental health treatment can drive costs up by tens of thousands of dollars annually. 

With 92% of participants remaining in housing after six months, the supportive housing program’s success record represents a culture shift in L.A.’s justice system and shows that community safety and reentry can be achieved through collaboration.

“For a population that struggles with addiction and compliance, a 92% stay rate after six months is profound,” said Chief Probation Officer Terri McDonald, “People who are able to stay in the community at the six-month mark attend to stay in the community in the long run.”

“This is good news, not only for those in jail needing mental health treatment and their families, but also good news for our communities struggling with untreated mental health patients cycling in and out of jail, and good news for the County,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “The evidence shows that we can improve treatment, enhance public safety, and use tax dollars more effectively, so let’s do it.”

“We’ve seen miraculous changes come out of one courtroom in one part of the County,” said LA County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “People go from suffering in the jail to thriving in their communities. They go from hopelessness to stability, care, and hope. Thanks to the Superior Court’s request to expand this program, those miracles will start happening in communities across the County.” 

The Court’s requested expansion of ODR Housing to a hub model now operates out of the Downtown courthouse (Criminal Justice Center) serving the Central Criminal District, Pasadena (North Central/Northeast) and Pomona (East); and from the the Airport Courthouse (West District) serving Torrance (Southwest), Compton (South Central), South (Long Beach) and Southeast (Norwalk). By the end of the year, the remaining three districts (Northwest, North Valley and North) will be served through programming based in Van Nuys and Lancaster. 

“The Los Angeles Superior Court (LASC) is proud to work with our justice partners on an expansion of this critical program to help homeless individuals overcome their mental health issues,” said Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile. “This program’s success is due in large part to the availability of housing, which provides a stable, safe home for people as they participate in mental health and other programs, reclaim their lives, and keep our neighborhoods safe. The ODR housing program demonstrates how the LASC, along with our justice partners, enhances public safety while helping these individuals lead more productive lives.”

ODR Housing cases represent a unique partnership across the County’s Justice and Health Departments. Each case is reviewed by the District Attorney, the Public Defender or the Alternate Public Defender, ODR, the Probation Department, and ultimately the Court itself. 

Once approved, participants are released into ODR’s residential programming. Under the supervision of specially trained probation officers, they begin treatment in interim housing and eventually transition into permanent housing, robust support services and reintegration into the community. Seven permanent supportive housing providers and twelve interim housing providers make up the ODR Housing services: Amity Foundation, The People Concern, Special Services for Groups (SSG) Project 180, Volunteers of America, Telecare, Alcott Center, and St. Joseph’s Center. 

Accountability in Probation

Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on Charges Filed Against Probation Officers

“The filing of criminal charges against six Probation officers validates the earlier concerns we raised about excessive – and now potentially illegal – use of pepper spray in our juvenile halls and camps. It also underscores the urgent need to safely and responsibly phase out the use of pepper spray, and to implement stronger oversight and other changes to be recommended by the Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT). I hope the Probation Department will continue to have a zero tolerance policy for staff misconduct.”

Troubling Deputy Reinstatements

Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on the Sheriff’s Recent Deputy Reinstatements

“We’ve seen the Sheriff reinstate individuals accused of domestic violence and excessive use of force, and he seems to think that he can continue doing this unilaterally. I assert that there is no upside to having the Sheriff’s Department tarnished by reinstating deputies who are not fit to serve. It does not help public safety or public confidence to reverse reforms that we have worked so hard to put in place.”

LA County Highlights Violence Prevention

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with Los Angeles County and City officials at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Public Health highlighted ongoing and upcoming services to prevent violence. Photo by Dave Franco / Board of Supervisors

With communities still reeling from the Nipsey Hussle murder, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, along with Los Angeles County and City officials, highlighted ongoing and upcoming services to prevent violence.

The Supervisor and LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer also launched the Office of Violence Prevention, an announcement warmly welcomed by LA City Police Chief Michel Moore and Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas speaks at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Public Health. Photo by Dave Franco / Board of Supverisors

“I declare without reservation, qualification,  and an ounce of doubt that violence is absolutely preventable,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “The Office of Violence Prevention’s efforts will be focused on working upstream to address the root causes of violence, to preempt it from occurring.”

The announcement, planned months ago to commemorate National Public Health Week, took on new significance and urgency after the recent uptick in gun violence, including the recent shooting of the Grammy-nominated rapper, Nipsey Hussle

“Far too many people in LA County are being injured and killed whether it be by homicide, suicide, or intimate partner violence,” said Dr.  Ferrer. “This violence is preventable. It takes community voices and multi-sector collaboration to promote healing and address one of the most pressing public health issues of current times.”

Kids having fun during an LA County Parks After Dark program. Photo by Mayra B. Vasquez / Los Angeles County

“The murder of Nipsey Hussle this week was one devastating reminder that violence can rip families and communities apart,” said Councilman Harris-Dawson. “We desperately need to address all of the ways that violence impacts our communities. I am proud to stand with the County to get to work.”

“Too many times, people view law enforcement as just going after the offender when, in reality, our work is much broader and includes the prevention of crime and the protection of victims,” Chief Moore said. “Trauma can have a lasting impact and, too often, our officers do not have the resources to really help people  recover from those types of tragedy.”

“With the Office of Violence Prevention, I’m encouraged for the first time that the County of Los Angeles is etablishing a means to identify resources that exist, gaps that need to be filled, and coordinate the delivery of all those services to a County of more than 10 million people,” he added. “I’m encouraged that this type of innovation is going to result in Angelenos getting the necessary treatment and services that will help reduce and eliminate this cycle of violence.”

Besides the press conference, the event also featured a Community Dialogue on Violence, Trauma and Healing, as well as a tour of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Healing and Trauma Prevention Center in Willowbrook.

Clearing Cannabis Convictions

Public Defender Ricardo Garcia, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Code for America founder and executive director Jennifer Pahlka, District Attorney Jackie Lacey,and Interim Alternate Public Defender Erika Anzoategui. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.

Los Angeles County announced a partnership with the nonprofit Code for America that would automatically clear more than 50,000 eligible cannabis convictions under Proposition 64.

Code for America’s Clear My Record pilot program proactively identifies convictions that qualify for resentencing or dismissal under the ballot measure approved by voters in November 2016.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined District Attorney Jackie Lacey at a Hall of Justice press conference announcing the partnership.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with Code for America founder and executive director Jennifer Pahlka. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.

“The war on drugs led to decades-long racial disparities in cannabis-related arrests and convictions,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We have a responsibility to right these wrongs by utilizing the latest innovations in technology, such as Code for America’s Clear My Record initiative, to ensure that people who have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs get the second chance they deserve.”

Last year, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas urged County leaders to develop a countywide plan to facilitate the resentencing of eligible cannabis convictions, and more recently called for utilizing innovative technology to accelerate such resentencing across Los Angeles County.

District Attorney Lacey said, “As technology advances and the criminal justice system evolves, we as prosecutors must do our part to pursue innovative justice procedures on behalf of our constituents.”

“This collaboration will improve people’s lives by erasing the mistakes of their past and hopefully lead them on a path to a better future,” District Attorney Lacey added. “Helping to clear that path by reducing or dismissing cannabis convictions can result in someone securing a job or benefitting from other programs that may have been unavailable to them in the past.”

Proposition 64 allowed certain cannabis convictions to be reclassified and resentenced. As of early 2018, however, fewer than 1,000 of those eligible for relief in Los Angeles County have filed a petition, partly because the process is cumbersome and time-consuming.

With the aid of Code for America’s Clear My Record algorithm, the District Attorney’s office would be able to o automatically and securely evaluate an individual’s eligibility for record clearance by reading and interpreting conviction data in just a few minutes. This requires no action on the part of the individual.

“In the digital age, automatic record clearance is just common sense,” Code for America founder and executive director Jennifer Pahlka said. “When we do this right, we show that government can make good on its promises, especially for the hundreds of thousands who have been denied jobs, housing and other opportunities despite the passage of laws intended to provide relief. Clear My Record changes the scale and speed of justice and has the potential to ignite change across the state and the nation.”