Statement on the Passing of LASD Deputy Joseph Solano

“It’s with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Deputy Joseph Solano. I offer my deepest condolences to his family, who lost a loved-one, and to his colleagues in the Sherriff’s department who lost a dear friend. In the face of danger and threats Deputy Solano was known to answer the call. As the details of this tragic event continue to unfold, and we learn the specifics, we will honor his life by standing together and looking out for one another, so that justice is served and his untimely passing will not be in vain.”

Paradigm Shift for Youth with Mental Health Needs in the Justice System

As part of a significant shift to a “care-first” approach to juvenile justice, and to reduce excessive force in Los Angeles County’s probation camps and juvenile halls, the Board of Supervisors called for a plan to divert youth with mental health needs away from locked facilities, and to increase mental health services for youth who remain incarcerated. The motion was in response to growing concerns about inadequate treatment, documented in reports by the County’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and Department of Mental Health (DMH).

“Failure to provide mental health services to justice-involved youth in our care is not a new problem. The US Department of Justice documented these issues back in 2003 and yet, over 15 years later, the County continues to struggle. This is unacceptable,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, lead author of the motion, said. “The current approach of juvenile incarceration is currently re-traumatizing youth and making the facilities less safe. These sobering findings lead to the unavoidable conclusion that a fundamental paradigm shift to a ‘care first’ model is required to achieve rehabilitation and public safety. We cannot allow the status quo to continue.”

“Our probation halls and camps are not meeting the mental health needs of our youth and we need a new approach,” added Supervisor Janice Hahn, co-author of the motion. “Whenever possible, we will divert kids with mental illness out of custody and into community-based treatment. At the same time, we will invest in dramatically improving the mental health services available for the youth who remain in our care.”

In its February 2019 report on safety concerns in juvenile justice facilities, the Inspector General found incidents of youth on psychotropic medication being pepper sprayed, as well as other alarming violations of protocol. In response, the Board asked DMH to assess the mental health needs of youth in County juvenile facilities.

Among the report’s most significant findings is that more than 90 percent of youth in the juvenile halls in 2018 had an open mental health case, representing a 38 percent increase since 2015. These youth are also more likely to have experienced homelessness and commercial sexual exploitation, which aggravate their underlying mental health issues. To address rather than exacerbate this trauma, DMH called for shifting to a “care first” model, including diversion, alternative placements, and increased mental health staff for those that remain in custody. Today’s motion by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Hahn seeks to find ways to implement these and other DMH recommendations.

“We believe in care for kids whose lives have been turned upside down by trauma and are in need of treatment, not punishment. Unfortunately, our current systems are not only incompatible with care delivery but also reinforce unhealthy narratives,” DMH Director Jonathan Sherin said. “We need reform and are going for it ‘all in’ as a County with steadfast leadership from the Board of Supervisors and guidance from the community.”

Peter Espinoza, director of the County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry, said his office “understands the importance of providing community-based alternatives for young people who suffer from a mental disorder, and is poised to build on the County’s existing youth diversion model to do so. Diverting young people away from incarceration improves not only health and education outcomes but also decreases their likelihood of reoffending.”

Statement by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas on the Alternatives to Incarceration Working Group Interim Report

“I am thankful to the Alternatives to Incarceration Working Group and its leaders for accomplishing so much in a very short amount of time. What they have done is extraordinary.”

Ribbon Cutting for the Exodus Mental Health Urgent Care Center at Harbor-UCLA. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

“They are putting together a roadmap that centers care and treatment as the primary priority, and incarceration as a tool of last resort. For the system, it represents a shift in paradigm to a care first ethos that internalizes the challenges faced by our justice-involved.”

“Additionally, while this interim report makes clear that the County must do much more to increase our alternatives to incarceration, the fact that the Working Group incorporated so much of the infrastructure that we’ve already built – such as the Office of Diversion and Reentry, psychiatric urgent care centers and sobering centers, as well as the state-of-the-art MLK Behavioral Health Center – signals we are heading in the right direction.”

“I look forward to seeing, and acting on, the “Final Roadmap.”  I am confident it will help us to avoid unnecessary incarceration as well as support individuals and families to stay housed and employed, further disrupting the vicious cycle between jails and homelessness.”

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Cutting the ribbon at the grand opening of the Dr. David L. Murphy Sobering Center in Skid Row.   (Photos by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors)

Board Looks to Expand Groundbreaking Program that Breaks the Cycle of Incarceration and Homelessness

The Board of Supervisors directed Los Angeles County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR) to draft a plan for expanding its innovative program that breaks the cycle of incarceration and homelessness. Dubbed ODR Housing, the program diverts inmates with serious mental health issues and substance abuse disorders from jail and provides them with intensive case management and supportive housing.

ODR has diverted more than 3,000 people from jail, of whom 1,700 have benefited from ODR Housing. Having an affordable apartment, as well as medical and mental healthcare, has helped many of them avoid cycling between living on the streets and being locked up behind bars.

The program has been successful in keeping 90 percent of its participants in stable housing for at least six months. At a cost of $70 a day per participant, ODR Housing is significantly less expensive than a stint in County jail or a stay in a County hospital.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas who authored the motion to create ODR. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

“Expanding ODR Housing will help us treat mental health and substance abuse disorders, tackle homelessness, and use taxpayer dollars more efficiently – all without compromising public safety,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion to create ODR. “We simply must double down on diversion because one cannot get well in a cell.”

“Our decision today to identify resources to expand this very successful program represents a true inflection point, not only for the Office of Diversion and Reentry, but for the County’s whole approach to justice,” added Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “We now have abundant evidence that people with serious mental health needs can be appropriately and safely served in the community, instead of in jail. Today’s action is an expression of the Board’s seriousness in finding the resources to expand this very important work.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl at the Board meeting. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Initially, ODR Housing was available only to people whose cases were heard in the Superior Court’s downtown Los Angeles Central District. Starting last month, two additional courthouses began offering the program. This represented a geographical expansion but – without additional resources – did not correspond with an increase in the number of clients who could be served.

Today’s motion calls for a plan to expand ODR Housing to all of the 12 geographic districts within the Superior Court system. The plan will include a timeline for increasing the number of clients who can be served, and identify financial and other resources needed to sustain the expansion, which will be aligned with the work of the Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group as well as the 5 to10-year Diversion and Reentry Road Map for People with Serious Clinical Needs.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stands with Director of the LA County Office of Diversion and Reentry Judge Peter Espinoza and others on the steps of Men’s Central Jail. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

“We are very excited to be working with the Board of Supervisors and our justice partners to expand the important work of diverting people from the jails into community based care,” said Judge Peter Espinoza (ret.), executive director of ODR. “Our programs continue to demonstrate that housing stability and intensive care can reduce the endless cycle of homelessness, recidivism and incarceration for our most vulnerable citizens.”

An estimated one-third of the men and women in the County jail system – approximately 5,300 people – suffer from mental illness. A recent report from the Department of Health Services shows 56 percent of them – nearly 2,900 people – may be eligible to benefit from ODR Housing if the program is scaled up.

Ezequiel Perez was skeptical when he was first offered the program, which has since changed his life. “I was like, ‘Is this for real? You’re gonna get me housing and medical and all that?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, and you can get started all over again.’ It was jaw dropping.”

Leonard Brown, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had been homeless, said, “It’s a hard thing to say but jail had been like a second home. Getting released and not having an opportunity to participate in treatment – the cycle kept continuing.” Since he became a participant of ODR Housing, he said, “I have been able to grow and get my life back.”

 

 

Phasing Out Pepper Spray

The Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT) released a road map for providing humane treatment and improving safety in Los Angeles County’s juvenile halls and probation camps that, for the first time, includes recommendations for phasing out the use of pepper spray over the course of a year. The roadmap emerged from a Special Hearing called for by the Board of Supervisors, asking the PRIT to solicit community input after voting unanimously to eliminate pepper spray in February.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

“It is high time we come to grips with the problems plaguing the juvenile halls and probation camps,” added Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who wrote the motion to create the PRIT. “Alarmed by findings of abuse in the OIG’s investigation, the Board directed pepper spray be phased out and that safety be improved for youth and staff alike. The PRIT has given us a roadmap with clear and actionable steps on how to do this, crafted with input from a range of stakeholders. There is no excuse for not moving forward now, and with expediency.”

“The Special Hearing allowed the Board of Supervisors’ PRIT appointees to elevate community voices, including formerly incarcerated people and probation officers, to shape the first-ever road-map for humane treatment and elimination of pepper spray in LA’s juvenile justice facilities,” said Saul Sarabia, PRIT Chairman. “It advances the Board’s vision to center robust community engagement as a key element in oversight and systemic reform of the nation’s largest Probation Department,” Sarabia added.

PRIT’s proposed timeline begins with enhancing training for all staff who work with youth, particularly on de-escalation techniques and non-use of force options. Such training is to start as soon as possible, and be ongoing. Soon after, only supervisors – not line staff – will have access to pepper spray, though only as a last resort. Eventually, the pepper spray will be placed in a lock box and taken out only under very limited circumstances. By the end of the year, all pepper spray will be removed from juvenile halls and probation camps.

“Having gone through the experience of being pepper sprayed as an adult, I am glad to see that L.A. County’s Supervisors have decided to eliminate its use on youth under the care of the L.A. County Probation Department,” said PRIT member Jose Osuna, who formerly worked with Homeboy Industries. “I believe that the PRIT’s recommendations lay out the safest path that can be taken in order to accomplish that.”

“We appreciate the work the PRIT has undertaken to develop these recommendations and will take them under advisement as we continue to develop a comprehensive strategy to safely eliminate the use of OC spray in our residential facilities. Our goal is to continue to work with our staff and partners to reduce the circumstances that contribute to the need for physical interventions. Additional training to build upon staffs skills working with high need youth and increasing rehabilitative services are among the actions we plan to take to ensure a safe environment,” said Probation Chief Teri McDonald, who received the recommendations.

Representatives of the Office of Inspector General presenting their findings to the Board of Supervisors. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

Concerned about the tripling of pepper spray use in the County’s juvenile halls in the last three years, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on February 19 to phase out pepper spray, and tapped the PRIT to conduct a special hearing after a County Inspector General (OIG) investigation found excessive and troubling uses of pepper spray. The OIG noted cases of pepper spray being used on youth under psychotropic medication, youth being pepper sprayed in the groin, and youth not being allowed to decontaminate after being pepper sprayed.

PRIT’s special hearing, held March 16 in Carson, drew more than 100 people, including formerly incarcerated youth, probation staff, experts in youth justice, youth advocates, County leaders, concerned community members, and other stakeholders. Their comments informed PRIT’s report, which had 15 recommendations in all.

The first 10 recommendations included developing strategies for ending the “us versus them culture” observed by the OIG in juvenile halls and probation camps and providing environments where youth can flourish. This includes providing enhanced mental health support to youth; and expanding staff support to deal with childhood vicarious trauma. Additionally, the PRIT recommended the Probation Department ensure robust oversight in creating a way for youth to report grievances without fear of retribution.

Chief Probation Officer Terri McDonald. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

The last five recommendations strive to balance the urgency of phasing out pepper spray with the need to do it incrementally.

“As the author of a recent motion to eliminate pepper spray from LA County juvenile halls and camps, I applaud the Probation Reform Implementation Team for synthesizing the insights of our community stakeholders on how to eliminate pepper spray while preserving safety in our facilities,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, lead author of the motion to phase out pepper spray.

“Phasing out the use of pepper spray at our Probation facilities is the only way to address our serious concerns for the young people in our care– but I am also concerned for the safety of our staff,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. We are charting path forward that takes into account both of these legitimate concerns equally.”

The PRIT is a five-member panel of experts primarily tasked with developing a comprehensive plan for reforming the Probation Department, as well as to transform the existing Probation Commission into a new – and strengthened – Probation Oversight Commission.

The effort is in line with the Board’s far-reaching commitment to criminal justice reform, and is expected to result in better outcomes for youth and adults under Probation supervision, and to make Probation more transparent and accountable to the public.