LA County Aims New Focus on Women Inmates. Harriett Buhai Center’s Report Influential in their Decisions

On February 12, 2019, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adopted several recommendations proposed by the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law in its recent report, Lynwood to Lancaster: Opportunities and Challenges for the Los Angeles County Women’s Jail Relocation. It voted to completely stop the move to Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster and to review alternative options for a new jail location. Additionally, the Board passed two motions that quoted heavily from the Center’s report and from a draft motion the Center submitted to the Board for a gender-responsive expert consultant and permanent director of gender-responsive services. One motion, titled “Building a Gender-Responsive Criminal Justice System,” adopted the Center’s recommendations to (1) restructure and strengthen the committee tasked with planning for the new jail (Gender-Responsive Advisory Committee), (2) hire an expert consultant to create a plan for system transformation, and (3) create a new permanent position to centralize leadership of gender-responsive efforts and implement the plan created by the expert (Director of Gender-Responsive Services). The second motion, titled “Developing Los Angeles County’s Plan for Justice-Impacted Women,” adopted the Center’s recommendation to start planning for gender-responsive system transformation by first investigating women’s unmet needs, since their pathways to crime are determined by their unmet needs.

The Board’s actions are victories for families in Los Angeles County. When the Center learned that Los Angeles County planned to relocate its women’s jail from downtown area to a remote area, it knew that families needed to have a strong voice in the process. The Center has been proud to be a voice and advocate. Maternal incarceration significantly disrupts family structures, however it’s known that visitation during incarceration promotes family reunification after release. The original site in Lancaster would have been extremely difficult for family members, especially children, to visit. The Center has been voicing its concerns and recommendations to the Board and the Sheriff’s Department for the past seven months. The recent vote is a sign that LA’s elected officials agree that moving the women’s jail far away would harm families and the community. The Center will continue to be involved in planning for a gender-responsive jail system for women. Ricca Prasad, the Center’s Project Assistant, will Chair the Gender Responsive Advisory Committee’s Visitation Sub-Committee.