Differential Incarceration by Race-Ethnicity and Mental Health Service Status in the Los Angeles County Jail System

Psychiatr Serv. 2020 Aug 1;71(8):843-846. doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201900429. Epub 2020 Apr 28.


Objective: This study analyzed race-ethnicity and arrest charge data from the Los Angeles (LA) County jail mental health (JMH) population to examine disparities by race and ethnicity.

Methods: Data from the LA County Sheriff's Department for all persons in the JMH population on February 14, 2019 (N=5,134), and for the overall LA County jail population (N=16,975) were compared with chi-square tests (p≤0.05 for binary measures and Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons).

Results: The JMH sample had a significantly larger proportion of black (41% versus 30%) and white (19% versus 15%) persons and a smaller proportion of Hispanic persons (35% versus 52%), compared with the overall jail population (p<0.001). A significantly smaller proportion of the JMH sample was charged with a felony (80% versus 91%, p<0.001).

Conclusions: Resources should be invested in prioritizing jail diversion of black individuals with mental illness and addressing the incarceration of persons with mental disorders charged with misdemeanors.

Keywords: Homeless mentally ill; Law and psychiatry.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Ethnicity / psychology
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Jails / statistics & numerical data*
  • Los Angeles
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prisoners / psychology
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Racial Groups / psychology
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult