July 17, 2014
City News Service
Training law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and other members of the criminal justice system to recognize mental illness is critical to breaking the cycle of jailing those who need clinical treatment, District Attorney Jackie Lacey told the Board of Supervisors.
Lacey has championed an effort to expand mental health diversion programs and today gave the board a 60-day progress report.
“Use of the jails as a mental health treatment center is inefficient, ineffective and, in many cases, it is inhumane,” Lacey said.
The Justice Department has found that Los Angeles County jails fail to provide adequate treatment and protection for mentally ill inmates and have cited diversion programs as one solution.
Lacey compared the pattern of arrests of the mentally ill to the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which the same day is repeated over and over again.
“All we’re doing is warehousing people and putting them back out,” the district attorney said, citing a statewide recidivism rate of 70 percent.
The Department of Mental Health has representatives in 22 county courts to help identify the mentally ill during arraignments. That program helped move 1,053 individuals out of the criminal justice system and into treatment in 2013, DMH Chief Deputy Director Dr. Robin Kay told the board.
But too many more people in need of help end up in jail, often for misdemeanors, Lacey said.
“Once we saddle them with a felony conviction, the housing is limited, the services are limited,” Lacey said. “That’s the injustice, that maybe we’re making things worse.”
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said those in the system ultimately commit bigger crimes.
“There are only so many times you can come back to jail before you graduate to more serious crimes,” Yaroslavsky said. “I think we can make a difference, not just in the population in our jails, but the crime that you seeon our streets.”
Lacey convened a group of more than 100 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, probation officers, mental health professionals, academics, public defenders and community-based organizations at a May 28 summit.
In addition to training, priorities set at the summit include expanding capacity for treatment and available housing for the mentally ill, and improving communications between departments.
“The most popular comment during the summit was, ‘I had no idea that was available,’” Lacey told the board.
A consultant hired to help design diversion programs was expected to make recommendations this fall.