Cal Watchdog Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-part series on how the homeless and mentally ill are treated in California. Part One was about the Kelly Thomas beating and death.
By Tori Richards
Welcome to 450 Bauchet St., a 10-acre compound in the heart of downtown Los Angeles that is the world’s biggest jail. Known as Twin Towers, it has a population greater than many small towns, with 3,911 inmates, 900 staff, and even its own hospital. But it also has another distinction: the world’s largest mental institution.
Housed in one wing and encompassing four floors, the mental health ward tends to approximately 1,200 inmates with psychiatric problems. Several hundred more of the most severe cases are located in the hospital.
California is now a state where the police — not doctors or counselors — are the front lines to millions of mentally ill who have no other recourse than to end up in the jails.
“Sheriff Baca has frequently commented that the mentally ill belong in a mental institution,” said Capt. Mike Parker. “In law enforcement we deal with things because other aspects of society have failed. You have a system not addressing the need. “In the end, law enforcement is the last stop. We’re not looking for that responsibility; it was given to us.”
A breakdown in the system has led to a large population of the mentally ill who turn to crime or simply wander the streets homeless, a recipe for disaster.
Just look at the case of Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old schizophrenic homeless man who belonged in a mental care facility rather than on the streets.
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