Funding for DTLA mental health center scaled back

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One of Los Angeles County’s most controversial proposals saw some funding pulled Monday, after public outcry over the plan to tear down Men’s Central Jail in Downtown Los Angeles and build a mental health treatment center in its place.

During a meeting to finalize the 2019-20 county budget, Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai recommended allocating just $30 million to the project. Originally, $121.7 million was expected to go to the facility, but debate surrounding logistics and alternatives have stymied development. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed, voting 3-2 in favor of the recommendation, with Solis and Hahn dissenting.

Developer McCarthy Building Cos Inc. has been contracted to spend the next year setting the scope and cost of the downtown facility. A final plan would be presented for the board’s approval March or April of next year. No groundbreaking would take place prior to that, according to the company.

The proposed treatment center has earned criticism from activists in February, due to its large capacity. Originally planned to hold 3,885 beds, the facility was later downsized to 2,500 beds. If built, it would be one of the largest mental health centers in the state.

Additionally, Supervisor Hilda Solis warned that operating such a treatment center could prove too expensive.

“I am more and more convinced that mental health care cannot be done effectively within a custody environment,” she said. “Data collection and community input is needed to better inform what a modern criminal justice system in L.A. County should look like. Without these prerequisites, we do not know what this project would, or should, look like – and therefore it is premature to fund any part of it.”

The population of inmates who are medically or mentally ill has surged in recent years, making up an estimated 70% of people held in the county jail system. For that reason, many community advocates have said that the facility could become simply another jail, in the guise of a treatment center.

“It’s still trapped in the legacy of the CCTF,” Mark-Anthony Johnson of Dignity & Power Now, said in February.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Alex Villanueva stressed that treatment in custody must remain the priority in Los Angeles.

“The stark reality is we also need a therapeutic environment for those mentally ill inmates who must remain in custody. Unfortunately, due to violent offenders and the need to balance diversion with public safety, there will always be a need for mental health beds within our jails,” Villanueva said in a statement in April.

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