Alternatives to Incarceration
The outbreak of COVID-19 in carceral facilities, be it jails, prisons, or immigrant detention centers, is a uniquely American epidemic within a pandemic. Public health crises in carceral facilities have long preceded COVID-19. These facilities regularly experience outbreaks of diseases, such as hepatitis and tuberculosis. The physical design, tendency towards exceeding capacity, and unsanitary, inhumane conditions create the environment for the quick spread of any disease. It is no wonder that these facilities struggle with COVID-19, but this pandemic heightens the dangers and risks, primarily for those incarcerated, but also for surrounding communities. People incarcerated and detained report being denied COVID-19 tests due to a shortage and as a result many speculate that COVID-19 positive cases are being underreported.
Impacts of COVID-19 on Alternatives to Incarceration in Los Angeles County
People in County jails come from overpoliced, under-invested neighborhoods, primarily South Central, Compton, Long Beach, and Antelope Valley. The County jail population is overwhelmingly Black and Latino. Black people make up less than 10 percent of the County population, yet 29 percent of the jail population is Black and similar to trends nationwide, women’s incarceration is increasing. In Los Angeles County, Black women make up one-third of the women’s jail population. To move forward, incarceration must be recognized as a source of oppressive discrimination.
Still, the State and County have made some strides towards some alternatives and breaking from this unsustainable and dangerous reliance on incarceration. Since 2015, the County has taken bold action to adopt a “Care First, Jails Last” approach for those impacted by the justice system. The County moved to break away from inefficient and racist incarceration practices, declaring that the County should provide care and treatment whenever possible. Last year, Governor Newsom banned for-profit carceral facilitates in California, including immigrant detention centers. Yet critical challenges remain.
We need a community-based system of care in place of County Social Services.
In Los Angeles County, Black women make up one-third of the women’s jail population.
- 25% 25%
Over half of the pretrial population have a severe mental illness deemed appropriate for release to community-based care, yet continue to remain detained
- 75% 75%
In Los Angeles County Jail alone, researchers estimate that 3,322 additional deaths would result in the surrounding community if an epidemic occurred within jail
- 46% 46%
11 Policy Recommendations to Alternatives to Incarceration
The report puts forward 11 recommendations for policy and practical action.