Los Angeles County pledges reforms of justice system's treatment of mentally ill inmates

August 11, 2015

Over the last month, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Sheriff Jim McDonnell pledged sweeping reforms of the justice system's chronically poor treatment of mentally ill inmates. Advocates for the mentally ill and homeless say that the entire county system is broken. Inmates with severe psychological diagnoses repeatedly fall through the cracks and land back on the streets, even when housing is available, advocates say. Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who oversees the jails, said the county is taking steps to plug the holes, including a decision by the Board of Supervisors to integrate jail mental health, custodial and medical departments. The sheriff agreed to federally supervised reforms, including ensuring that inmates are released with medication and access to psychological counseling. The plan focuses on training law enforcement to defuse encounters with mentally ill people and on developing treatment housing, but with more than 3,000 people in the county's jail system - about one-fifth of the total - requiring mental health services, and 10,000 inmates in and 10,000 inmates out each day, it's a challenge, McDonald said.