Years ago, I was part of a small group of leaders who toured the notorious Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail, which was home to 19,000 inmates last year.
The facility was less of a place for personal reform and more of a place for punishment. The barred spaces looked like cages—where inmates were stuffed in, three cots high—like animals. Broken pipes, filth, and dilapidated furniture seemed more consistent with the type of incarceration that one would witness in a developing country.
On that tour, the Sheriff shared an insightful statement with our group: “This jail is the largest mental ill facility in the country.”
Flash-forward to 2015 and this statement still holds a great deal of truth. On any given night, the L.A. Men’s Central Jail houses 3,000 people struggling with severe mental illness. Many, if not all, of these incarcerated men with mental illnesses are homeless. To a certain extent, this jail is an unintended facility for homeless people.
In contrast to these images of overcrowding, some states are witnessing rapid reductions in their prison populations. Former Attorney General Eric Holder projected a decline of 12,000 federal inmates in the next two years. In response to this decline, some states have decided to convert their prisons to homeless shelters.
That is a lot of empty beds. It makes sense to convert these buildings into something useful for society. Like a homeless shelter. Read More »