Updated: Jun 9
My friend, CJ, describes Men’s Central Jail as “the closest thing to hell or maybe even hell itself.” That’s a big statement coming from someone who has spent over ten years on death row at San Quentin and has been incarcerated for 25 years. Another friend named Andrew gets emotional as he tells me his mom says, “I’m right there with you every moment of every day.” He says to me, “That’s not comforting. I don’t want that at all. If she only knew what it was really like here.”
Rats, cockroaches, broken escalators and elevators, showers that run 24/7, backed up toilets, no hot water, power outages…all these things can be found on any given day at Men’s Central Jail. Almost 60 years old, this facility was never designed to house people for multiple years. Many men facing serious charges may be held there over ten years while waiting for their trial. The only outdoor space available to the men is located on the roof, and there are very few spaces to gather for classes or recreation. Every day individuals spend locked up in county jails erodes the network of family and community making us all less safe.
Almost everything written in the Opinion essay from the New York Times by Christopher Blackwell is also true for the Los Angeles County Jail system. The cost of phone calls, food and hygiene are punitively and unfairly high, further burdening the already limited resources of families trying to put money on the books of their incarcerated loved ones.
The run down, inhospitable Men’s Central Jail provides a real time opportunity to reimagine the entire jail system. Tear it down and build something that actually makes our community safer and more whole. Reduce the jail population by finally eliminating cash bail. Use the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on incarceration to provide programs that address the issues truly making our communities less safe and whole like homelessness, joblessness, addiction and mental illness (Check out the Vera Institute’s What Jails Cost calculator linked below). Los Angeles County’s mental health deferment program where individuals are put into programs rather than incarcerated is popular but the timing and availability is still a struggle. As crime rates rise all over the country it’s time to try something new because incarceration is not the answer.
Important Further Reading: