Investing in Supportive Pretrial Services: How to Build a “Care First” Workforce in Los Angeles County

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In March 2020, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adopted the “care first, jails last” vision, a transformative framework for safety grounded in support and services as alternatives to incarceration or bail. Three years have passed and people of color, people experiencing homelessness, and those with unmet mental health needs continue to languish in county jails. County staff attribute implementation delays to a shortage of community-based behavioral health workers. The Vera Institute of Justice’s conversations with community-based providers—detailed in this brief—document how the COVID-19 pandemic, long-standing difficulties with contracting, and chronic underinvestment in infrastructure have resulted in the current workforce shortage.

Key Takeaway

To effectively implement a “care first” vision and meet the demand for community-based pretrial services, Vera recommends immediate action steps to remedy ongoing issues with the county’s contracting processes, lower barriers to entry for small providers, and invest in urgent capacity-building and workforce development beginning this budget cycle.

Publication Highlights

  • Local providers across the spectrum of services and service planning areas are experiencing staffing shortages resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and competition with Los Angeles County.

  • Capacity-building support is needed to strengthen community-based service providers, as are changes to contracting, billing, and reporting procedures.

  • To expand capacity, Los Angeles County should, among other things, implement pretrial services by increasing budgetary allocations for community-based service providers and restructuring county contracting processes and technical assistance programs.

Key Facts