Diverting the Mentally Ill from Jail into Treatment

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas applauded District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s recommendations to divert persons with mental illness from the county jail system, presented Tuesday in a report to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas then went a step further, calling for the establishment of an Office of Diversion Services, which would create a comprehensive approach to jail diversion in Los Angeles County.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas plans to file a motion creating a well-funded Office of Diversion Services that includes mental health, housing and legal experts, as well as advisory representatives from the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, Public Defender, Alternate Public Defender and the Departments of Mental Health and Health Services.

“We must design and implement a successful plan to deter individuals with mental health and substance abuse problems from going to jail and to keep them from re-offending,” he said. “Through the Office of Diversion Services, the county would have a well-coordinated approach to methodically and holistically address this complex problem. We cannot approach this in a piecemeal manner, but rather by understanding all the elements and addressing public safety as a public health issue.”

District Attorney Lacey’s report, which came in response to a motion authored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in May 2014, addressed “all circumstances ranging from pre-arrest to post-conviction, in which mentally ill persons can be prevented from entering the jail at all, can be redirected from the jail into treatment, or can receive linkage to services (during and after incarceration) to help prevent them from returning to custody.”

Research indicates that taxpayer dollars are best spent on a comprehensive diversion program that promotes community care. This approach can be more effective than jails in treating mental illness, enhancing public safety, reducing repeat offenses and producing better outcomes. Diversion alternatives could also include development of permanent supportive housing, expansion of successful mental outpatient service programs and more training for law enforcement personnel.

“We need the Office of Diversion Services to serve as a pipeline, bringing people from one resource to the next in an effective way so they do not commit more crimes once they are released,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “In fact, we need to design a game plan so that they don’t enter the system in the first place.”