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The Board of Supervisors this week voted unanimously to expand mental health treatment and other supportive services for LGBTQ people, both inside and out of county jails.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the motion’s lead author, said the proposal also addresses a concern that too many women—including those who are pregnant or elderly—are being needlessly jailed.

“Women need help, but instead, our custody system often re-traumatizes people who are already victims of poverty and violence,” Kuehl said. “Today’s action calls for us to better understand specific custody subpopulations including the cisgender female, lesbian-gay-bisexual and transgender populations, what factors drive them into the justice system, and how we might provide the services that could prevent justice involvement.”

The motion calls for implementing a series of recommendations detailed in a report issued by the county’s Gender Responsive Advisory Committee.

“There are better ways to protect public safety than locking up people who simply need help,” Kuehl said.

In addition to more in-jail support for women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, the board’s vote also supports additional research to identify inmates who can safely be released from jail to community treatment.

There are about 1,300 inmates held daily at Century Regional Detention Facility, the county’s women’s jail in Lynwood.

A 2020 RAND Corporation analysis estimated that roughly one-third of women in county jail have mental health issues and that nearly three-quarters of those women could be safely treated outside a jail setting. However, releasing them would require significantly ramping up the number of available inpatient and outpatient beds in the community.

Kuehl said building up that infrastructure is a key focus as the county implements its “Care First, Jails Last” vision. That strategy aims to reduce the overall jail population through diversion programs and by funding more community-based support services in hopes of slowing the rate of incarceration.

Women are the fastest growing population in U.S. prisons and jails, and an estimated 86 percent of women in jail nationwide have been victims of sexual violence, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

There are roughly 115 pregnant women currently in county jail, according to Peter Espinoza, who heads the county’s Office of Diversion & Reentry.