Los Angeles County operates the world’s largest jail system, and despite an incarceration rate well below the national average, its jails remain critically overcrowded. To address this issue, the county has implemented initiatives designed to divert select categories of arrestees from the criminal justice system into treatment. These efforts include the creation of an Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR), the launch of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) pre-booking diversion program for drug offenders, the opening of an alternative destination to jail and hospital emergency departments for chronically inebriated individuals, the implementation of a screening process to reduce time in jail awaiting trial, and a Community Reentry Resource Center to assist jail inmates transitioning back into the community.
To build on these prior efforts, Los Angeles County was awarded a two-year, $1.2 million grant from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2019 to directly address over-incarceration of the mentally ill, one of the main drivers of the local jail population. The county plans to implement strategies aimed at expanding pre-plea diversion options for those whose alleged offense is a product of a mental disorder and meeting the needs of those who cycle between medical and/or mental health facilities and custody environments, with a focus on the homeless population. This new initiative will include embedding mental health professionals in high volume courtrooms, same-day assessments of defendants who appear to suffer from a mental health disorder, and the pre-plea release and diversion of qualifying individuals into mental health treatment programs.
The initiative reflects a ground-breaking collaborative effort to address the incarceration of the mentally ill by the County, the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles Alternate Public Defender’s Office, the Probation Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the bench, and the County’s health agency departments. The initiative will utilize provisions of AB 1810, a state law enacted in 2018 that allows pre-plea diversion for some defendants with mental health needs, to help guide the launch of this program.