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A Vision for Supportive Pretrial Services in LA County: Abridged
On any given day, nearly 7,000 people in Los Angeles County jails are at the pretrial phase of the criminal legal process, this number represents 45.7% of the County’s current jail population. LA County finds itself at a crossroads– the County can either choose to prioritize investments in the future of our communities, or systems that dehumanize Angelenos of color and perpetuate cyclical poverty. While the County has committed itself to a Care First vision for Los Angeles, the jail population continues to rise and people are spending more time in jail, away from critical services and resources.
In March 2022, the County established the Justice, Care and Opportunities Department (JCOD) and tasked this new department with implementing and housing the County’s pretrial services agency. Shifting pretrial services into an independent agency is a critical first step in implementing the ATI pretrial recommendations; however, in order to ensure the success of the County’s new system, additional recommendations must be adopted in shaping JCOD.
Grounded in best practices developed by national experts, the Community Care and Support Agency (CASA) model, ATI recommendations, and continuous community engagement, LA County’s care-based pretrial services model must be anchored in the following components:
- The presumption of release
- Care and support, and NOT supervision
- A commitment to address the long-standing, pervasive racial disproportionality issues in LA County’s jail system
- Making significant advances towards the closure of Men’s Central Jail
In order to achieve and operationalize these anchoring components, the County should apply the following methods:
- Articulating a Comprehensive Vision and Concrete Benchmarks for JCOD: JCOD was founded in direct response to the findings of the Alternatives to Incarceration working group and designated as the County department to oversee pretrial services. Yet JCOD’s current mission is vague, shortsighted, missing key components of the ATI report findings, and lacks any discernible commitment to an actual Care First vision. JCOD’s pretrial model must articulate a clear plan for collaboration with judicial actors, service providers, and community stakeholders for group development of a departmental vision that is robust, focused, and geared towards tackling the issue of over incarceration in Los Angeles County through a socioeconomic, gender, and racial equity lens. The plan should include concrete goals, timelines, and benchmarks for implementation alongside other county departments and work groups.
- Community Engagement and Collaboration: Community engagement is a critical part of development and implementation of an effective and care-centered pretrial model. JCOD needs to establish concrete structures–including a JCOD steering committee, a community advisory board, and community engagement workgroups–to work with community leaders and organizations. Together they should articulate a robust vision for how its pretrial model will supportively move people out of jail and into community based structures of care. Once JCOD’s pretrial model is established, ongoing opportunities for community feedback must continue as outlined in recommendations 88 and 76 of the Care First, Jail Last Roadmap. (see full list of recs here).
- Presumption of Release: As the COVID emergency zero bail order revealed, there are thousands of people who enter the jails who can and should immediately be released. Recommendations #55 and #56 of the ATI report recommend that the County institute a presumption of pretrial release for all individuals, especially those with mental health needs. The County’s pretrial services framework must ground itself in a presumption of pretrial release, prioritize release at the earliest possible point in the criminal legal process and create more efficient pretrial process and standards for assessing the needs, developing safety plans, and securing release of individuals at arraignment no later than 24 hours after arrest. The County should advocate for legislative changes that advance the presumption of release, and expand resources for the offices of the Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender. (see full list of recs here).
- Care and Support not Supervision: Successful pre-trial models from across California and the country show that two components are necessary for Los Angeles’ pretrial model: 1) that it be grounded in community based support, 2) without supervision. Reliance on supervision denies the constitutional presumption of innocence and failure to comply with supervisorial requirements often lead to extreme consequences such as re-incarceration pre-trial and potentially harsher sentences. Surveillance-based conditions to pretrial release limit the viability of community support. To implement robust and effective pre-trial services, Los Angeles County must ensure service connection is provided at the earliest point possible and is led by a Community Care and Support Agency (CASA) rather than the probation department.
- Service Providers: Invest in Safety by Resourcing Care: A Care First model that centers public health and safety must center community based service providers who foreground trauma-informed care approaches. Emphasis must be placed on community service providers who provide specific and tailored services for individuals with mental health and substance use needs. All service providers included in the pretrial model must be aligned with Care First and have long-standing community trust. JCOD can work with the County to expedite funding processes for very-small to medium sized organizations to expand the pool of services providers able to meet the needs of pretrial populations and expand workforce development for the mental-health sector (see full list of recs here).
- Tracking Progress Through Data Collection, Utilization, and Transparency: Frequent collection and reporting of data allows for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the County’s pretrial model. Data is also a tool for accountability and will support community advocates and public defenders in their own analyses of JCOD’s development. JCOD must build and maintain an adequate data infrastructure to ensure robust program evaluation and Conduct periodic data analysis to address issues of inequity and efficiency and implement evidence based practices in collaboration with the JCOD Steering Committee.
The County’s investments into the Justice Care and Opportunity Department have the potential to transform a legal system that has, for too long, harmed low-income, unhoused, and communities of color in Los Angeles. We are at the precipice of change; to reimagine the future of Los Angeles County, it is necessary to finally invest in Care First systems and structures that reduce pretrial incarceration and help us realize the closure of Men’s Central Jail.
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