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Working group explores changes in county justice system

WAVE NEWSPAPERS — If Los Angeles County hopes to create a “care first, jail last” system of justice, it will need to make a major investment in mental health and community-based services, a county working group told the Board of Supervisors June 11. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the county was aiming to reshape its approach to criminal justice.

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By County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

LOS ANGELES — If Los Angeles County hopes to create a “care first, jail last” system of justice, it will need to make a major investment in mental health and community-based services, a county working group told the Board of Supervisors June 11.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the county was aiming to reshape its approach to criminal justice.

“If not ‘no more jails,’ then fewer and fewer people in jails,” Kuehl said of the board’s goal.

The Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group, chaired by Robert Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment, set 14 goals and offered more than 100 recommendations as part of its 90-day interim report.

“The board is on the right track,” Ross told the Board of Supervisors. “What you’re hearing is ‘move farther, push harder.’”

Another work group member spoke to a cycle of arrest and re-arrest among the county’s most vulnerable residents.

“If you are someone in Los Angeles County struggling with mental health, substance use or housing needs, you are met with systems that do not have the capacity to adequately support you, and you then end up in our hospitals, jails or on our streets,” said Eunisses Hernandez, of JustLeadershipUSA, a nonprofit which aims to cut the nationwide jail and prison population in half by 2030.

The need to significantly build capacity for mental health and substance abuse treatment, as well as related programs, was highlighted by multiple members of the work group, who said it means hiring more mental health professionals to coordinate with law enforcement, opening more community mental health urgent care centers and substance abuse treatment facilities, as well as providing more housing services and pathways to jobs.

“We must stop releasing people from the jail into homelessness,” the report quoted a member of law enforcement as saying.

Despite points of contention between various constituencies in the group, which has 26 voting members, Hernandez said the work represents an “unprecedented community engagement process” and seemed optimistic that the report would impact policy.

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas praised the working group’s report.

“They are putting together a roadmap that centers care and treatment as the primary priority, and incarceration as a tool of last resort,” he said. “For the system, it represents a shift in paradigm to a care first ethos that internalizes the challenges faced by our justice-involved system.”

Ross declined to prioritize the various recommendations in the report — which include rerouting 911 calls related to mental health issues away from law enforcement, a commitment to pretrial release and expanding the use of conservatorships for severely mentally ill individuals — but cited one big idea when pressed.

“We need a network of restorative villages around the county,” Ross said, telling the board the notion has been “road-tested” at Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center, but more centers are needed “[to] begin to show … what true healing looks like at the community level.”

Members of the group highlighted race as a factor.

“The people locked up in Los Angeles County, as everywhere in America, are disproportionately black and brown,” said Kelly Lytle Hernandez, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “We are committed to acknowledging, studying and dismantling [the] legacies of systemic racism.”

Activists have for years told the county “no new jails.” They argue that the board’s latest proposal, a $2.2 billion “mental health treatment system” to replace the Men’s Central Jail, is too massive to be effective and should be abandoned in favor of smaller community centers.

Brian Kaneda of Californians United for a Responsible Budget told the supervisors the treatment facility is “a building that will effectively function as a jail by another name.”

The work group intentionally did not take a position on the downtown center, though Ross said in a letter prefacing the report that community leaders believe it “appears to run counter to the vision of a community-based, care-first, integrated system of care.”

Peter Eliasberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California called the work group’s objectives and the mental health treatment center “two entirely incompatible visions,” noting the treatment center already “has an inside track” to funding.

Shifting focus and resources from jails to the community will be an expensive proposition that will take roughly seven to 10 years to effectively scale, according to Ross and Dr. Christina Ghaly, who heads the county hospital system.

“Who pays for it and what are we getting for that money?” asked Supervisor Hilda Solis.

Ghaly said the answer was complicated and didn’t guess at a price tag, but offered some insights. Medicaid funding, for example, cannot be used to pay for mental health care for jail inmates, but if those same individuals were in community-based treatment, federal funding could cover 50-90% of the costs, she said.

Kuehl said she wasn’t willing to let federal or state officials “off the hook” when it comes to investing in alternatives to jail.

However, Eliasberg said it was time for the board to make a big financial commitment of its own.

Even if it made any sense to build a 3,885-bed facility — three times the size of California’s largest mental health hospital — the board cannot afford to fund both plans and will starve the Alternatives to Incarceration plan if it proceeds with construction downtown, the civil rights advocate said.

“They’ve got to put their money where their mouths are,” Eliasberg told City News Service.

Models for what the county can accomplish can be found in Portugal, Italy and Scandinavia, according to the report. In the U.S., the city of New York and several states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Kentucky and Missouri, have successfully implemented innovative changes, but have struggled to scale their impact.

Ross urged the county not to wait for others to act, predicting that change in this arena will come from a series of local and regional efforts, rather than at the federal level.

A final report is scheduled for December

“They are putting together a roadmap that centers care and treatment as the primary priority, and incarceration as a tool of last resort.”

This article originally appeared in Wave Newspapers. 

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Commentary: Tips for Staying Safe (Emotionally) as Pandemic Drags On

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Delta variant have fundamentally changed many of our lives, the way we live and the manner in which we interact with each other, and how we live, work and play together.   

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Many of us are tired, stressed and impatient having to live our lives under this seemingly never-ending pandemic. 

In early spring, many of us were hopeful that COVID-19 was coming to an end.  We began making plans for the summer, from visiting family and friends to attending concerts, plays, planning for vacations and special milestones, and basically “just returning to normal life activities.”  

However, as life would have it, the Delta variant appeared. We were again confronted with the inability to control most aspects of our lives.  In fact, most recently, scientists have purported that we may expect additional variants for years to come.

According to the California Department of Public Health, in February 2021, only 2% of Black Californians were vaccinated. However, as of October 5, 4.2 % of all Black Californians have received at least one dose of vaccine. Representing about 6 % of California’s overall population, we as a community remain behind on our vaccination rate.   

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Delta variant have fundamentally changed many of our lives, the way we live and the manner in which we interact with each other, and how we live, work and play together.   

This pandemic has reinforced that there are so many aspects of our lives that we cannot control. And anytime we cannot control our lives and/or our environment, we tend to feel helpless which leads to anxiety and possibly depression.  

So, what can a person do, when life does not go as you planned and are impatient for this pandemic to end?  Here are some tips that have been recommended by the experts:

  1. I know this might sound cliché, but recognizing and understanding your feelings, whether you are sad, angry, stressed, or frightened. Accept, do not negate, how you feel.  
  2. The ability to bounce back and adapt to difficult situations is crucial to wellness.  You have to believe in yourself, your ability to be strong and to try your best – relying on various proven self-care methods — to stay positive.
  3. Try having an attitude of gratitude.  Think about just a few little things or events that are going well in your life daily and in the life of your family and friends.
  4. When you feel overwhelmed…. just breathe…Yes, literally, just breathe in through your nose, hold it and exhale through your mouth a few times or meditate by remembering a verse, phrase, poem, or visualizing a tranquil place for just a few seconds. Still yourself.   
  5. Look back on the good times that you have had and treasure those memories.
  6. Plan a reasonably safe event you can look forward to in the near future that will bring you joy or fulfillment. 
  7. Stop thinking negative.  It’s difficult when life feels as if it’s spiraling out of control but find ways to prove that your negative thoughts are either wrong or that the sky will not fall.  Remind yourself that life and circumstances can and do change.  Turn those negative thoughts into positive affirmations.  Have faith and confidence. 
  8. With so many things going on that are out of our control and often make us feel helpless, focus on what you CAN control in your life.  
  1. Take care of yourself. Exercise, even walking 20 minutes a day, eating healthy, sleep on a regular schedule, turn off electronic devises at least one hour before bed, avoid alcohol and substance use, especially before bedtime, connect with community or faith-based organizations, and/or reach out to your local mental health provider, employee assistance program.

Lenore A. Tate, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Sacramento, California. She specializes in neuropsychology, behavioral health and geriatrics.

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East Bay Area Section of NCNW: 70th Anniversary

Knowledge is Power

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East Bay Area Section of NCNW: 70th Anniversary Flyer

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Community

Social Security Benefits Will See Largest Jump in Nearly Forty Years

An average couple’s benefits would increase by $154 to $2,753 per month in 2022.

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Social Security Card Template

Millions of retirees on Social Security will see a 5.9% jump in their benefits next year, the largest cost-of-living adjustment 9 (COLA) in the last 39 years.

The increase comes in the wake of deepening inflation as the economy continues to be impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The increase will mean about $92 a month for an average retiree, according to estimates by the Social Security Administration.  Increases over the 10 years averaged t 1.65% a year.

An average couple’s benefits would increase by $154 to $2,753 per month in 2022.

This Social Security adjustment will affect 1 in 5 Americans., a total of nearly 70 million people.

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