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.