Shouting “No more jails!” among other slogans, more than 100 people shut down a main street in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday to call on the county Board of Supervisors to abandon a multi-billion dollar jail construction plan.
Members of a newly formed group called Justice LA, a coalition of several community organizations, gathered amid 100 replica jail beds set up on Temple Street in front of the Hall of Administration.
Dressed in bright orange T-shirts, the same color as the jumpers in L.A. County jails, protesters said they were there to deliver a request to the Board to redirect what they say could add up to $3.5 billion in jail construction money that could instead help communities with the highest rates of imprisonment. Those areas include districts overseen by supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, according to protesters.
“Those communities tend to be primarily poor and working class communities of color that are also disproportionately high in unemployment, home foreclosures, school cutbacks, inadequate access to healthcare and lower-than-average life expectancies,” according to a statement from Justice LA.
An immediate response by Ridley-Thomas and Solis was not immediately available Tuesday while the Board meeting was ongoing. But county officials said the actual cost of the new men’s and women’s jails is closer to $2.3 billion.
County officials also have said the goal behind the jail construction project is to provide treatment and housing for inmates with mental health illnesses and substance use disorders, those who are medically-fragile or considered high security. Officials have said about 4,000 inmates — or 30 percent of the total inmate population — are diagnosed with mental illnesses.
“I believe that the County Board of Supervisors should have a commission to study alternatives to jails,” said Patrisse Cullors, of Justice LA and co-founder of Black Lives Matter. “With $3.5 billion we could support people who are houseless and getting them homes. We could support children who have little access to getting healthy food. I’m a lover of life and I deeply believe in humanity’s ability to do better than we’re currently doing.”
The group also said they want to see the state’s AB 109 realignment funding go toward alternative programs outside of jails.
The protest comes just as a draft of an environmental impact report on a replacement facility for Men’s Central Jail is expected to be released in early October. Those plans include 3,885 beds for men and women inmates. County officials said the space will provide an emphasis on mental health services, substance use disorder treatment, medical care and educational programs.
Jail construction plans also include a women’s facility in Lancaster, to replace the Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood. The Lancaster facility, called the Mira Loma Detention Facility, already exists. It was considered the state’s largest immigration jail until it was shuttered in 2012. Plans include renovating Mira Loma for $137 million and it would have 1,604 beds.
Almost a year ago, protesters who opposed the renovation of Mira Loma shut down the Board of Supervisors meeting just before a vote was taken on moving forward with the project’s design.
The board eventually approved the certification of the final environmental impact report on the site, but critics have said the planned remodel of Mira Loma sits on land where Valley fever, an illness caused by a fungus found in the soil, is common. In addition, they said the facility would be too far away for families to visit incarcerated relatives.
During Tuesday’s protest, several speakers said they had experienced incarceration and would have benefited more from programs in the community.
Jonathan Perez, of Justice LA, said time spent incarcerated, even for a short period, can affect a person’s mental health as well as job opportunities.
“These beds follow us,” Perez said, pointing to the mock inmate bunks displayed on the street.
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