LA County votes to replace Men's Central Jail with mental health treatment center

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday 3-2 to replace the Men's Central Jail facility downtown with a mental health treatment center.

The facility will be operated by the Department of Health Services and staffed by the Department of Mental Health, officials said.

Supervisor Janice Hahn called the current jail, located near Union Station, one of the oldest jail facilities in California.

"Men's Central Jail is a decrepit, outdated facility inconsistent with human values and basic decency," said Hahn said in a press release. "It puts both our inmates and our sheriff's deputies at risk. It must be torn down."

The board was originally set to vote on whether or not to approve a contract to build a mental health jail, called the Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility (CCTF), which would be run by sheriff's deputies.

Hahn and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas instead wrote an amendment to move forward with the contract, but change the project to a mental health treatment center operated by the county's health services.

The mental health treatment center voted on Tuesday would be a treatment-centric facility focused on healing and not punishment, the news release said.

"Thousands of people in our jail system right now suffer from severe mental illness and are not getting the treatment that they need," Hahn said. "Study after study has shown that punitive environments are counterproductive to mental health treatment. No amount of training will turn a Sheriff's deputy into a mental health professional- nor should it."

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl voted against the change.

"Years have gone into the effort to bring us here. But today, after hearing from community leaders in criminal justice and mental health, as well as our County Department heads, I believe that this decision was rushed," Solis said in a statement.

The departments of mental health, public health and health services will next report back regarding the right size, scale and scope of the project.

More than 70 percent of county jail inmates report having a medical or mental illness, according to estimates from the county.

Officials say the Men's Central Jail, built in the 1960s and 1970s, was not designed to treat inmates with severe mental health conditions and substance-use disorders.

Related: LA County to spend $100 million to improve jail conditions