Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

here is no way you can have ef­fec­tive treat­ment in­side of a jail,’’ Markan­thony John­son tells a crowd of cheer­ing ac­tivists. ‘‘It is not pos­si­ble.’’ Hun­dreds of peo­ple pack the Hol­ly­wood United Methodist Church to hear from John­son and other lead­ers of Jus­ticela, a group formed to fight what mem­bers are call­ing the planned ex­pan­sion of the Los An­ge­les County jail sys­tem. The chal­lenge of the county’s men­tally ill pop­u­la­tion is at the cen­tre of the fight over the US$2.2 bil­lion project. Per­haps 40 per cent of LA jail in­mates suf­fer from mod­er­ate to se­ri­ous mental ill­ness. The LA County jail sys­tem is in ef­fect the na­tion’s largest mental hos­pi­tal. Why, John­son de­mands, ex­pand the mental health treat­ment ca­pac­ity in jails in­stead of putting the money into com­mu­nity clin­ics of the type that were sup­posed to be built (but weren’t) when mental hos­pi­tals were closed be­gin­ning in the 1960s? The ques­tion is where au­thor­i­ties see the new jail project in a larger, more com­pre­hen­sive vi­sion of pro­grammes and poli­cies to im­prove the qual­ity of life of county res­i­dents, in­clud­ing those marginalised. If it’s a $2b piece in a larger puz­zle, what does that com­pleted puz­zle look like? How much will each piece cost, and where will the money come from? Will that one piece crowd out all the oth­ers? The au­thor­i­ties haven’t shown the county the top of the puz­zle box — the one with the com­pleted pic­ture. Per­haps it’s time they did.

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