Thursday, October 30, 2014
...writes The LATimes's Abby Sewell. County DA Jackie Lacey commissioned GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation to come up with a proposal for improving mental health care in the county's jails. While its work will continue into 2015, the center issued a report yesterday finding a need for more resources for training law enforcement personnel in best practices for dealing with people experiencing mental health crises. Reportedly, county law enforcement currently have few good options when finding help for them.
"It's often more time-efficient for law enforcement to book an individual into jail on a minor charge ... rather than spend many hours waiting in a psychiatric emergency department for the individual to be seen," the report said.
The report also recommended expanding an existing county program that places social workers in the courts to identify defendants who might be candidates for diversion, putting a pre-trial release program in place for such defendants, and placing more social workers in the jails.
The county also needs to improve data sharing between mental health professions and law enforcement, which of course raises a variety of difficult legal issues.
Improvement to mental health care is urgently needed as the state continues transferring nonviolent felons to local jails under a 2011 federal court order to reduce overcrowding in the state's prisons. Currently:
The percentage of inmates in county jails who are mentally ill has increased by 89% since 2011 and now stands at 17% of the male population and 24% of the female population...
But resources could become available soon. County commissioners recently promised $20 million for alternatives to prison for mentally ill offenders, and the county plans to establish crisis centers to help law enforcement handle encounters with the mentally ill. Relatedly, some of the $50 to $100 million in savings from the proposed reclassification of several non-violent felonies as misdemeanors under California Proposition 47 would be dedicated to mental health care and drug treatment.