by Dina Demetrius, Aljazeera
LOS ANGELES – At Pod 172, the men are evaluated in shackles, before they’re given permanent housing in the nation’s largest caretaking facility of the mentally ill: The Los Angeles County Jail.
At the Inmate Reception Center of the Twin Towers Jail, inmates are booked, screened and evaluated for their physical and mental health. When we visited earlier this month, 4,287 were detained in special housing there. The Department of Mental Health projects up to a 50 percent increase in the next five years.
In the nation’s biggest jail system, 1 in 5 inmates now suffers a mental illness, according to officials there, and 75 percent will return after they’re released, compared with 60 percent of the general jail population.
L.A. County Jail psychiatric ward
An inmate in the psychiatric ward at L.A. County Jail America Tonight
L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey called it Groundhog Day when she took America Tonight on the first-ever TV tour of the jail’s psychiatric ward.
“How you doin’, Ms. Lacey?” said one inmate, crouched on his knees, and yelling through a slit in the door. “A petty theft, and they still got me in here… I’m on 800 milligrams of Seroquel. I’m diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, yet other people mostly bipolar. I need help and they can’t offer me help.”
Lacey nodded in agreement.
“If he were not mentally ill, he would be in court. He would have pled guilty. He would already be going about his business,” she said. But because he’s mentally ill, she added, “this is the only option.”