LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles is at the center of a battle between Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors after the board voted Tuesday to cancel a $1.7 billion project to replace the dilapidated facility.
“This jail was designed for inmates in the 1950s,” Capt. Jason Wolak said.
The facility was built in 1963 and houses more than 4,400 inmates per day — often leaving the jail dangerously overcrowded, according to Villanueva. The county has been working on plans to replace Men’s Central Jail for years. In February, the board approved a plan to replace the facility with one that focused more on mental health as opposed to incarceration. The board voted to cancel the project this week.
“Eighty million dollars just flushed down the toilet,” Villanueva said.
The project called for the construction of a 3,800-bed facility, a number Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said was too many. She voted to cancel the project.
“There will still be a custodial facility,” she said. “I’m just saying, ‘Sheriff, you don’t need 4,000 beds. Those were never going to be mental health beds, and you don’t need them.'”
Villanueva called the Tuesday vote irresponsible, and said that mental health would have been the focus of the new facility. He said without a plan to replace Men’s Central Jail, public safety would become a concern.
“One of the motions they want to enter now is demolish Men’s Central Jail with no replacement,” he said. “How can you do that when it’s going to leave over 4,500 inmates that are high security — a threat to the public safety?”
Of the inmates at the jail, about 25% are considered high-risk inmates who have been charged with serious crimes. Villanueva said about 70% of the inmates have mental health issues, and the majority of them are not getting the treatment they need.
“We can go to the deputies and whatever and ask them to deal with this mental issues, but they can’t do nothing,” one inmate said. “So here I am getting feces and dealing with different problems that I shouldn’t have to deal with.”
The board of supervisors will now go back to the drawing board to find a suitable solution. Villanueva said he would take the issue to the community.