The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has appointed retired Judge Songhai Armstead as interim director of the new Justice Care and Opportunities Department, driving forward its Care First, Jails Last vision.
With this appointment, JCOD can formally begin its work to unify LA County’s efforts to serve vulnerable justice-impacted people and communities and transform the justice landscape by breaking the cycle of overreliance on incarceration to create a more just and equitable Los Angeles County.
The department’s mission is to:
-Reduce the County’s over-reliance on the incarceration of our justice-impacted populations
-Build a cohesive, robust continuum of care from prevention to reentry
-Break down silos between the justice system and intersecting systems (e.g., behavioral health, supportive housing, social services, and workforce development)
-Address inequities in the criminal justice system, in particular, racial and gender inequities
-Develop justice reform policies and strategies countywide
-Improve overall outcomes for individuals and communities
With the merging of the ATI Office, Jail Closure Implementation Team and the Reentry division of ODR-Reentry into one, the department will be responsible for delivering programming across the justice continuum from prevention to reentry, with diversion programs in CEO and reentry programs formerly housed in ODR-Reentry now folded under the JCOD umbrella.
The department is also charged with expanding the County’s pretrial services and looking to develop other innovative programming to support justice-impacted populations and build out the infrastructure to support their success. Additionally, the department will be supported by a planning and strategy arm focused on policy development, data and evaluation, and cross-agency coordination; and an external affairs unit tasked with strengthening relations with the community and other external stakeholders.
“I am grateful to the Board of Supervisors for their innovative vision for change. With the centralization of all the County’s justice reform efforts, we will be able to better serve our residents and make long-lasting change,” said Judge Armstead. “I am excited to partner with County departments, community-based organizations, and the community to create a system of care and support that provides impactful opportunities for vulnerable people to thrive and succeed as essential and contributing members of our communities.”
Judge Armstead is a longtime advocate for the underserved, and a justice system innovator. Before this interim appointment, Judge Armstead, a retired Superior Court judge, was the first leader of the Alternatives to Incarceration Office, which will now become part of JCOD. Judge Armstead and her team drove the operational creation of JCOD after the Board established the department earlier this year. Judge Armstead overcame early childhood trauma and her own lived experience to attend the UCLA School of Law where she was the first-ever African-American woman elected student body president in a post-209 environment. As a criminal courts judge, in addition to general cases, Judge Armstead also heard ODR, mental health, gang diversion, and other specialty and diversion cases. Throughout her career, Judge Armstead has created new programs to break the cycle of incarceration and has focused on helping people get treatment and housing to improve their lives.
Here is what the Board of Supervisors has to say about this transformative new department:
“I’m excited for the Justice Care and Opportunities Department and the role it will play in implementing LA County’s Care First Vision and making our communities safer. I look forward to supporting the work that JCOD will do with our justice partners and the community to expand alternatives to incarceration and ensure that all Angelinos have the opportunity to thrive,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair, Holly J. Mitchell.
“The Justice Care and Opportunities Department is about breaking down silos, highlighting the intersection of our systems, and coalescing Los Angeles County’s justice reform and “care first” work. This is about providing tailored support and resources to our returning community, so they can be successful outside of the justice system so our residents do not get entangled in our legal system in the first place. I am certain that these efforts will improve the lives of individuals and will have a positive impact on their families and our communities. Additionally, having this new Department led by Judge Songhai Armstead, who is intimately aware of the effects of these multi-systems, will serve as an asset to the County and its residents,” said First District Supervisor Hilda L. Solis.
“There is no more concrete and meaningful step that LA County could take in fulfilling its Care First, Jails Last pledge than establishing this nation’s first department dedicated to coordinating services and optimizing funding sources for people who are, have been, or are at risk of being, caught up in our justice systems,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “This department will integrate and accelerate our commitment to reducing incarceration, as well as to expanding services and housing for people whose needs are much better met through community-based services.”
“The creation of the Justice Care and Opportunities Department is a testament to our Board’s commitment to the Care First, Jails Last for Los Angeles County and lasting justice reform that will make our communities safer. Judge Armstead is uniquely qualified to get the Department started as its Interim Director,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn.
“Today’s launch of the Justice Care and Opportunities Department is proof that our Board is committed to eliminating silos and making a meaningful investment in streamlining and coordinating services to rehabilitate offenders,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “Director Armstead and her team have a unique opportunity to both implement a coordinated network of programs and evaluate the efficacy of the County’s efforts to make transformative changes in lives. It won’t be easy, but it’s certainly needed if we want to make a meaningful dent in addressing other issues, such as reducing homelessness and crime.”
For more information about JCOD, visit jcod.lacounty.gov.