On Tuesday, Oct. 19 the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to expand mental health treatment and other supportive services for LGBTQ people, both inside and out of county jails.
The movement’s lead author, supervisor Sheila Kühl, said this will also address concerns that a large number of women, including pregnant or elderly women, have been unnecessarily imprisoned.
“The county needs to pay close attention to the sexual orientation and gender identity of the people in custody, because without knowing who they are, they cannot effectively meet their needs. “Because,” Kühl added. The motion calls for the implementation of a series of recommendations detailed in a report issued by the county’s Gender Response Advisory Board.
There are about 1,300 inmates held daily at Century Regional Detention Facility, the county’s women’s jail in Lynwood.
A 2020 RAND Corporation analysis estimated that roughly one-third of women in county jail have mental health issues and that nearly three-quarters of those women could be safely treated outside a jail setting.
However, releasing them would require significantly ramping up the number of available inpatient and outpatient beds in the community.
Reliable data on the LGBTQ+ population in Los Angeles County jails is not currently available, but a national survey indicates that roughly one-third of women behind bars across the country identify as lesbian or bisexual. The board motion also calls for additional data gathering.
Women are the fastest growing population in U.S. prisons and jails, and an estimated 86% of women in jail nationwide have been victims of sexual violence, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.
Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who co-authored the motion, recalled voting more than 20 years ago on a state public safety bill aimed at “stopping belly chaining and shackling pregnant women who are in active labor as they are being transported from prison or jail to deliver. Just barbaric ideology, barbaric practice.”
Mitchell also pointed out the racial inequities evident in the disproportionate number of Black women jailed for crimes largely rooted in issues of substance abuse and poverty.
“Black women comprise only 9% of all the women in L.A. County, yet they make up 33% of jail bookings among women,” Mitchell said. “The racial and gender inequities in our jail system are real and must be addressed.”
The Kuehl/Mitchell motion also referenced a goal to shut down Men’s Central Jail without a replacement as central to that vision, although that particular objective is opposed by both Sheriff Alex Villanueva — who runs the jails — and Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
Both Barger and the sheriff agree that the dangerously decrepit jail must be closed, but believe a replacement is needed to house and treat inmates who cannot be safely released, particularly given the current lack of community infrastructure.