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It is time to change the criminal justice system in Los Angeles County, community advocates say. Ultimately, policy experts believe the ‘care first, jail last’ approach will create an equitable future for all residents.

One hundred and seventy years is a powerful legacy to contend with (Los Angeles County was founded in 1850),” said John Kim, executive director of Advancement Project California. “It may take years, decades to get the system that we want.”

Advancement Project California has released the first-ever Justice Equity Services Index (JESI), which is a spatial tool that locates and examines LA County’s justice-related system of care.

Kim said it is time for action and time to uplift all of the community-based organizations that have already been doing the work to connect people with housing and job opportunities with limited or no funding resources.

The JESI is a new tool which has identified areas in LA County by zip codes that need support, services, and funding. However, to get things done, data is necessary, especially for policymakers.

“Values alone will not get us to the system we seek,” Kim said. “We need to respect the on-ground service providers that have been doing this work and make sure they have necessary resources.”

In South Los Angeles, community advocates said the lack of equity is visible to the naked eye.

“Every time I visit my parents’ home (in South LA), I’m seeing a lack of service,” said Yusef-Andre Wiley, Executive Director of Timelist Group. “People have a lack of hope.”

Wiley, who said he was involved with gangs as a youth, ended up serving 22 years in prison between the age of 21 and 43. He’s been home for nearly ten years and has dedicated his life to uplifting others.

“We’re trying to find a way to get people connected to the government resources to advance their work,” Wiley shared. In addition to South LA, Wiley said oftentimes, the Antelope Valley is forgotten as well.

“A care first county,” added Daniel Wherley, a senior analyst with Advancement Project California, when discussing the project’s ultimate goal.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had a higher documented impact on neighborhoods that have been disproportionately impacted by the current criminal justice system.

Advocates said equitable services are needed now more than ever in the following areas:

• Health and Wellness

• Housing and Employment

• Prevention & Intervention (re-entry services)

• Community Services and Advocacy

Community advocates want more leaders to make community-based care decisions first and take bold actions to deliver true justice, equity, and wellbeing in all neighborhoods in LA County.

“We’re diverting people from jail to housing and services as soon as possible,” said Los Angeles County Alternatives to Incarceration Director Judge Songhai Armstead.

For more information, visit www.advancementprojectca.org