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Detention center retrofit may be in jeopardy

City News Service | 1/11/2019, midnight

A plan to retrofit an immigration detention center in Lancaster as a women’s jail, long opposed by criminal justice advocates, may not have the votes it needs to move forward, based on a statement issued today by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

“The location of the proposed women’s jail at Mira Loma poses significant, and in my opinion, insurmountable obstacles to our goal of creating a women’s jail that is the centerpiece of a gender-responsive corrections system,” Kuehl wrote. “Mira Loma is too far away from the home communities of the women who would be housed there, and too far away from family members who would need to visit.”

Kuehl’s statement followed one issued Sunday by Supervisor Hilda Solis.

“Visitation is a huge part of ensuring rehabilitation and reducing recidivism for women,” Solis said. “Many of the women who are incarcerated in L.A. County are mothers, and it is crucial that they maintain in-person visits with their children and families.”

Kuehl is asking that a vote planned for tomorrow on the Mira Loma Detention Center be postponed two weeks, but her statement may be the death knell for the project, which requires four votes from the five-member Board of Supervisors for approval.

The Department of Public Works had recommended approval of a $215 million budget and the award of a design-build construction contract to San Fernando Valley-based Bernards Bros. Inc. to renovate the facility that lies roughly 70 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. The state approved $100 million in funding for the work in 2014.

The board approved the project in concept in 2015, though Solis abstained from the vote and both she and Kuehl called for strategies to overcome the challenges posed by the facility’s location. Kuehl said no cohesive plans for transportation, visitation or programming have been created.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board penned an editorial saying the project would “make a mockery of (the board’s) commitment to better the lives of women and girls.”

The newspaper board urged the supervisors to reconsider the location and put more emphasis on diverting women from jail and into treatment whenever possible.

Though the vote is likely to be postponed, subject matter experts and criminal justice advocates who have protested the plan for years are expected to turn out to share their perspectives.

Kuehl also asked that a vote on the planned $2.2 billion Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility to replace Men’s Central Jail be delayed two weeks. DPW has proposed increasing the budget by roughly $30 million and awarding a contract to McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.

Kuehl maintained her support for the men’s jail in her statement.

“L.A. County is making progress in its effort to build a culture of rehabilitation. The new Correctional Treatment Facility will improve the treatment and rehabilitation for the mentally ill jail population,” she said.