LA County Settlement Takes Major Step in Ending Jail-to-Homeless Cycle

In a case that will bring sweeping changes to how the County of Los Angeles handles the release of inmates suffering from mental illness, Munger, Tolles & Olson partnered with Public Counsel to reach a settlement among the county, the United States, and a group of disabled and homeless former inmates.

The settlement – announced Dec. 6, 2018 – calls for new policies to prevent inmates with mental illness from being released without arrangements for managing their mental health. Under the new policies, release plans will be developed with participation from community-based providers who can offer services to the inmates upon their release. The jail will also notify the community-based providers of the inmates’ release dates and help facilitate continuation of care after their release.

“Discharge planning is a critical step for incarcerated individuals with mental illness,” said Bradley S. Phillips of Munger, Tolles & Olson, a frequent pro bono partner with Public Counsel. “A settlement like this demonstrates that the community can and should work together to provide adequate services for all residents. Real changes can be made to combat the jail-to-homelessness cycle.”

Inmates with a mental illness will be released with their first mental health appointment already scheduled and transportation to the appointment arranged. Those who require medication will be given a two-week supply upon their release as well.

The policy changes also include offering inmates help in obtaining California identification cards if they do not already have one. Lack of identification upon release can often be a barrier for patients to receive mental health services. In addition, they will receive assistance restarting suspended Social Security benefits or applying for new benefits.

The Los Angeles County jail system houses an estimated 5,000 inmates who are dealing with a mental illness. Before these new policies, most were released without any recourse for how they could continue their treatment outside of the prison system.

In 2015, the firm and Public Counsel represented inmates who intervened in a lawsuit originally brought by the United States against LA County aimed at improving the treatment of mentally ill inmates and ending deputy abuse of inmates. The extensive new rules concerning release of inmates are an amendment to the original settlement between the U.S. and the county. The original case was United States of America vs. County of Los Angeles and Sheriff Jim McDonnell. For more information on the case, please visit this page.

Along with Mr. Phillips, the Munger, Tolles & Olson team included Grant A. Davis-Denny.