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In a step that significantly shifts Los Angeles County away from incarceration as the default consequence for criminal offenses, L.A. County’s new Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) Office, in partnership with community-based service providers and County justice partners, has launched a pre-filing diversion pilot program.

People arrested for a variety of misdemeanors and non-violent/non-serious felonies will now be eligible to receive mental health and social services in lieu of charges being filed. Candidates will be screened by police officers to determine if they meet the minimum requirements for diversion, and if they do, they will immediately be matched with a system navigator at the station and placed in supportive housing with services.

Under this new program, Special Service for Groups (SSG) – Project 180, a community-based service provider with a long-standing relationship with the County, will co-locate expert staff at the LAPD’s 77th Street Regional Jail. The provider will link eligible individuals to appropriate services during the booking process in order to avoid the filing of criminal charges and to ensure that individuals released back into the community are linked to needed services.

Staff will conduct voluntary needs assessments of eligible individuals, identify appropriate services, and transport participants to housing and treatment as needed in lieu of jail and criminal filings.

The 77th Street jail was selected for the pilot because it has one of the highest numbers of arrests and bookings in the county.

“I have long said that police officers are not trained to be social workers and that as a society we cannot arrest our way out of mental illness, homelessness, and other problems facing Los Angeles,” said LAPD Chief Michel Moore. “Our primary goal is to protect and promote public safety, and this initiative is an important tool for us to do just that. By having service coordinators embedded at one of our most active stations, we can get potential offenders the services they need before they are released back to society.”

The pre-filing pilot moves forward one of the most important recommendations developed by the Alternatives to Incarceration Workgroup. The ATI Workgroup, which preceded the ATI Office, brought together a community of dedicated stakeholders and advocates for justice reform.

The Board of Supervisors then established the ATI Office in late September 2020, charging the office with developing Countywide policy and strategy to achieve justice system reform. It also oversees countywide coordination of efforts aimed at realizing the Board of Supervisors’ mandate to move the County’s criminal justice culture away from an incarceration-first model to one that places care and services front and center.

The County’s jails are overwhelmed with people who have not been convicted of a crime and/or who suffer from mental illness or substance use disorder. More than half the jail population have not been convicted of a crime and a substantial majority are also currently experiencing some sort of mental health disorder. As such, there has long been a consensus among community advocates, County mental health experts, substance use treatment providers, social service providers, and law enforcement agencies that a treatment-focused approach requires a different intake model and additional resources.

“Under this program, services are offered before, and in lieu of criminal charges being filed – for those in greatest need,” said (Ret.) Judge Songhai Armstead, executive director of the ATI Office. “This pilot marks an important milestone in our care first journey by disrupting further involvement with the justice system while creating connections to social, mental health, and housing services at a pivotal point in the process.”

Services for this diversion pilot will be provided by Special Services for Groups (SSG) Project 180, a local nonprofit service provider. The program will be staffed by Project 180, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. “We are honored to partner with the County of Los Angeles’ ATI Office and the City of LA on this ambitious early diversion endeavor that we believe will become a model throughout the region,” said Emily Bell, director of SSG Project 180. “Through our work with the County, we’ve seen how linkages to services and appropriate case management and housing can change lives, reduce recidivism, and set people up for success.”

County and City justice partners also made the program possible and have pledged their full cooperation in the implementation and expansion of pre-filing diversion.

Eligible individuals for this diversion program include people with mental health and substance use disorders, as well as the unhoused population. Persons arrested for serious offenses (e.g. sex offenses, DUIs, domestic violence, violent or serious felonies) are not eligible for this program.

Expansion of this program to nine other police and Sheriff’s stations is already underway.