How to Build a “Care First, Jails Last” Workforce in Los Angeles County

A new report from the Vera Institute of Justice investigates the workforce shortage hindering Los Angeles County's "Care First, Jails Last" vision. Service providers face recruitment, retention, and contracting barriers that put people in county jails at risk, keeping them trapped in the criminal legal system.


June 6, 2023

Contact: Trip Eggert,, (212) 376-3157 | ext. 1033

(Los Angeles, CA) – A new report from the Vera Institute of Justice's California Office details how the COVID-19 pandemic, long-standing difficulties with contracting, and chronic underinvestment in infrastructure have caused a critical shortage of community-based care workers. Vera interviewed 23 employees across three local government agencies and 11 community-based organizations about staff shortages and asked how the county could alleviate barriers to creating the robust system of care needed to support releases from jail.

Their responses reveal the escalating crisis of clinician and case manager vacancies: “The staff shortage started before COVID and was exacerbated by COVID… we are burnt out.” But respondents also detailed clear strategies to implement the county’s transformative “care first, jails last” vision for safe alternatives to incarceration and bail. Though three years have passed since Los Angeles County adopted the “care first” model, people of color, those experiencing homelessness, and people with unmet mental health needs—now 41 percent of the jail population—continue to languish in detention.

Los Angeles County must take swift action to address the fractures in the local provider economy, in order to advance the “care first” vision and alleviate the violent and deadly state of county jails. Vera recommends the county implement the five following strategies:

  1. Restructure county contracting process and technical assistance programs to increase budgetary allocations for community-based providers. “Many of our employees who are on the lower pay scale are being impacted by homelessness, poverty, and economic challenges. We want to adequately compensate individuals who are providing these services so they can sustain themselves, but [the county doesn’t] pay their community partners enough for us to be able to afford it,” said one respondent.
  2. Adopt flexible funding models, expedite funding disbursement, and allow for nimble contract revisions to help smaller providers access county funding and diversify the community-based system of care.
  3. Simplify reporting requirements to protect organizational capacity and mitigate staff burnout.
  4. Extend additional training, education funding, and licensing assistance to the incoming generation of care workers.
  5. The Justice, Care, and Opportunities Department (JCOD) must implement the Equity in County Contracting Workgroup’s recommendations for contracting and funding to streamline community-based pretrial service delivery.

The buildout of the new JCOD presents an opportunity for Los Angeles County to reimagine public safety by investing in a robust system of care needed to support pretrial releases from jail. Through meaningful investments and organizational changes, the county can ease the staff retention challenges local providers face, while attracting and equipping the next generation of behavioral health professionals. With a commitment to supporting small and medium-sized community-based organizations, Los Angeles can ensure it has the capacity to help system-impacted people in need.


About the Vera Institute of Justice: The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit

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