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Given chance to avoid jail and criminal charges, mentally ill, addicted and homeless people in LA pass

Kevin Rector, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

People’s choices “make sense if you stand in their shoes,” Blasi wrote.

The diversion program’s struggles are playing out against the backdrop of an equally tumultuous debate at the state level.

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently proposed a controversial plan to allow judges to compel people with serious mental illness and addiction to receive treatment. It has the support of policymakers and family members of mentally ill people who believe the state should be more proactive in helping people in the most need instead of waiting until they commit a crime and are jailed.

Others, however, saw the governor’s proposal as an extreme overreach and see any state-backed effort to force sick or addicted people into treatment as inappropriate. They argue there are better ways to help people out of crises, namely by offering better, more attractive services and housing than many programs currently provide.

While the LAPD’s diversion program, which is part of a countywide effort launched in 2020 to develop alternatives to incarceration, is not mandatory, it is designed to cajole people into accepting treatment and housing at a moment when they are facing potential jail time.

The fact that so many eligible people have refused the program has left police questioning its viability, and there are no plans to expand it beyond the 77th Street jail, Pitcher said.


In contrast, department officials remain bullish about a similar diversion program for juveniles, which operates citywide and provides kids with mentoring, tutoring and other services as opposed to sending them to jail, Pitcher said.

That program, too, has come under fire over the years from critics, including before the Police Commission in 2020, who argued the LAPD was too restrictive about which offenses qualified for the program. Some youth advocates argued the LAPD should cede control of it to county agencies.

The Police Commission at the time called on the LAPD to reverse a rule that barred children with alleged gang ties from the program. Last Tuesday, police officials said they had done so — and that participation rates among eligible youths are high.


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