Board of Supervisors Anticipates a Strong Diversion Plan for Mentally Ill Inmates

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Los Angeles County has both the largest inmate population of any county in the nation and the largest population of mentally ill people who are incarcerated. While the Board has adopted a $2 billion-jail master plan to demolish Men’s Central Jail, modernize Mira Loma Detention Center for women and construct a new two-tower Correctional Treatment Facility, that plan, however, does not allocate funding to create much-needed alternatives to incarceration for mentally ill inmates.

“Jails are no place for our mentally ill to receive help,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who called for the county to set aside $20 million to create a robust diversion plan. “We can and we must do more. We have heard from many individuals and experts and they have asked us to improve the outcome for individuals with mental illness as well as save money for the county. A diversion plan is an essential component to making our society better.”

All five board members say they fully support the creation of a strong diversion program that would redirect mentally ill offenders away from county jails, where they currently constitute a substantial portion of the population, to treatment programs. To that end, the Supervisors decided to discuss funding a diversion in September, when District Attorney Jackie Lacey is scheduled to present a plan for Los Angeles County.

Much of the board meeting on Tuesday, July 29, however, was devoted to the testimony of advocates, residents and parents of mentally ill persons calling for the board to act.

As Jo Helen Graham , a mother whose son suffers from mental illness noted in her testimony before the board Tuesday, “Why do we accept jails and prisons as surrogate mental health hospitals for our mentally ill citizens and loved ones rather than build (as the prison industry does) clinics and hospitals to care for the treatment of the mentally ill?”

A strong diversion plan would likely include training for law enforcement and emergency services providers, preventive services for those who may be at risk of getting arrested, offer post-arrest alternatives to incarceration and programs that would help former inmates re-enter society after they are released, such as job training. This plan would work in collaboration with the District Attorney, the courts, law enforcement, mental health, substance abuse and health providers and other key players to make sure it is coordinated and comprehensive.

Lawrence Foy, policy director for A New Way of Life, a nonprofit, noted that funding diversion will put Los Angeles County “on a clear path to providing a comprehensive approach to ameliorating a growing and festering crisis among those faced with mental illness.”

The U.S. Department of Justice recently reported that inadequate supervision and deplorable environmental conditions deprive Los Angeles County jail inmates of constitutionally-required mental health care.

Other cities throughout the country have seen impressive results with their diversion programs, including New York City’s Nathaniel Project with a reported 70 percent reduction in arrests over a two-year period; Chicago’s Thresholds program with an 89 percent reduction in arrests, 86 percent reduction in jail time, and a 76 percent reduction in hospitalization for program participants; and Seattle’s FACT program with a 45 percent reduction in jail and prison bookings.

LETTERS OF SUPPORT

12 replies
  1. Clarissa H.
    Clarissa H. says:

    Dear Mark Ridley-Thomas:

    As a Los Angeles County resident, I am writing to urge you to support Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ motion that will allocate $20 million to fund diversion of people with mental illness away from jail and into community treatment.

    I believe L.A. County must stop punishing defendants with mental illness for being sick. Research shows that inmates with mental illness leave jail with aggravated conditions, endure higher rates of violence from guards and fellow inmates and are re-incarcerated at shockingly high levels.
    Diversion programs, on the other hand, have proven effective at treating those with mentally illness and drastically reducing recidivism. And diversion programs cost less than half of what we spend to incarcerate an inmate with mental illness.

    That’s why counties across the nation are already implementing diversion programs and are seeing the benefits. There is broad support for diversion from law enforcement, community service providers, and prosecutors, including L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey who recently said warehousing people with mental illness in our jails is inefficient, ineffective and inhumane. She is dedicated to expanding mental health diversion from jail to appropriate community centers and fully supports the Ridley-Thomas motion.

    Diversion makes financial sense, improves public safety, is a long-term solution for reducing our jail population and allows for just treatment of those with mental illness. But this common sense solution cannot work without funding.

    I urge you to support the modest allocation of $20 million for diversion of inmates with mental illness away from jail and into community treatment.

    – Clarissa H.

    Reply
  2. Wendy K.
    Wendy K. says:

    I am writing to express my support for the motion to fund diversion of people with a mental illness away from jail and towards community treatment. I would also like to thank Supervisor Ridley-Thomas for his support of the $20 million to fund diversion of people with mental illness away from jail and into community treatment. I am thrilled that the BOS has proposed actually dedicating money to diversion, which is an essential component of a successful program. A great beginning!!!! This will really help!!!!!

    Thank you!
    Wendy K.

    Reply
  3. Kartar D.
    Kartar D. says:

    I am writing in as a concerned citizen and a member of NAMI, in support of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ efforts and the motion to actually allocate 20 million dollars in funding for a mental health diversion program. We have heard for many years that the jail system is full of individuals who need mental health services more than the confines of prison. This motion is a step in the right direction and I firmly believe that when mental health care is provided to those in need, that everyone in the community benefits on many levels and that ultimately it is more cost effective to tax payers as well, than warehousing people for no other reason.

    Sincerely,

    Kartar D.

    Reply
  4. Diane L.
    Diane L. says:

    I recently learned of the presentation made to your Board by District Attorney Lacey on July 15 regarding the need to divert mentally ill people away from the criminal justice system and toward appropriate community-based treatment. What a great step forward that would be in serving both public safety and the needs of the mentally ill.

    Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’s motion to set aside a minimum of $20 million to support first steps toward implementation of a diversion plan was a very welcome next step. Considering the vast amounts it costs to warehouse mentally ill people in jail cells where their condition often deteriorates, the $20 million represents an extremely sound investment in best practices.

    The diversion plan outlined by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas would address these needs and keep many people from returning to jail or going there in the first place.

    I hope you will all support the Ridley-Thomas motion, and I feel such gratitude to the supervisor for making a powerful case for its passage.

    Sincerely,

    Diane L.

    Reply
  5. B. Ellie
    B. Ellie says:

    Our loved ones do not belong in jail. They have an illness they can recover from and be productive members of society, or at least not be
    harmful to society, at a much lower cost than repeated hospitalizations or jail.

    PLEASE SUPPORT Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ motion to set aside $20 million for an adequate Diversion Program for the mentally ill.
    Jail is an expensive option, it is cruel for the mentally ill and it leads to nothing but hardship and tragedy for the families and the ill person.

    Thank you so much for all you do.

    B. Ellie

    Reply
  6. Arun D.
    Arun D. says:

    As a Los Angeles County resident, I am writing to urge you to support Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ motion that will allocate $20 million to fund diversion of people with mental illness away from jail and into community treatment.

    I believe L.A. County must stop punishing defendants with mental illness for being sick. Research shows that inmates with mental illness leave jail with aggravated conditions, endure higher rates of violence from guards and fellow inmates and are re-incarcerated at shockingly high levels.
    Diversion programs, on the other hand, have proven effective at treating those with mentally illness and drastically reducing recidivism. And diversion programs cost less than half of what we spend to incarcerate an inmate with mental illness.

    That’s why counties across the nation are already implementing diversion programs and are seeing the benefits. There is broad support for diversion from law enforcement, community service providers, and prosecutors, including L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey who recently said warehousing people with mental illness in our jails is inefficient, ineffective and inhumane. She is dedicated to expanding mental health diversion from jail to appropriate community centers and fully supports the Ridley-Thomas motion.

    Diversion makes financial sense, improves public safety, is a long-term solution for reducing our jail population and allows for just treatment of those with mental illness. But this common sense solution cannot work without funding.

    I urge you to support the modest allocation of $20 million for diversion of inmates with mental illness away from jail and into community treatment.

    Sincerely,

    Arun D.

    Reply
  7. Claire H.
    Claire H. says:

    I write to you in support of Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas’ proposal for $20 Million dollars for Mental Health Diversion. This Diversion plan has the ability to reduce the jail population by over 2,000 individuals and provide meaningful treatment for people with mental illness. This plan could help people entrenched in the LA County jail system by expanding treatment and services in the community instead of locking people up to obtain little services in a traumatic environment that does not encourage or help with the safety of our entire community. CURB and the No MORE JAILS L.A. Coalition think this is a step in the right direction and support the plan with reservations based on the revised language.

    Though I support this proposal I do not support the board using this plan to support locked mental health facilities or Laura’s Law to force people into treatment without their consent. Research has confirmed that forcing someone into treatment does not impact their overall outcomes and thus these are not viable diversion strategies or alternatives to incarceration. Additionally I am concerned about the revisions to the motion that remove the language emphasizing and prioritizing funds to community-based organizations and service providers; This diversion plan should maintain a focus on providing funding support to community-based organizations, that use un-locked facilities and voluntary, comprehensive treatment that continues care in one’s own community.

    I must also add my voice to the continued opposition to the proposed jail plan that the Board of supervisors ironically moved forward with on the same day as the mental health diversion. Despite Supervisor Molina’s claim that diversion “is not going to negate the kind of beds we need” diversion has the potential to significantly reduce the populations within the jails. With the broader implementation of split sentencing and the implementation of the Alternative Custody Program that passed in the 2014 budget trailer bill, it seems clear that Vanir’s jail expansion plan fails to account for diversion and population reduction plans that are already moving forward, let alone other diversion plans that could take place between now and 2024, when the jail would open.

    As a part of the Los Angeles community I continue to be adamantly opposed to any jail expansion plans. We need you, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, to stand with us today by supporting $20 million for Mental Health diversion that prioritizes community based services and reconsider the jail plan in light of the implications of diversion.

    Sincerely,

    Claire H.

    Reply
  8. Susan C.
    Susan C. says:

    As a Los Angeles County resident for forty-years , I am writing to urge you to support Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ motion that will allocate
    $20 million to fund diversion of people with mental illness away from jail and into community treatment.

    I work as a volunteer in the juvenile halls, County jail, and State prisons, and from first-hand experience that many, many inmates in all these facilities have some kind of mental illness that incapacitates them.

    They need to be diversionary treatment programs. It is a difficult journey to be incarcerated but it is inhumane for a person who is too ill to to survive life locked up.

    Diversion makes financial sense, improves public safety, is a long-term solution for reducing our jail population and allows for just treatment of those with mental illness. But this common sense solution cannot work without funding.

    I urge you to support the modest allocation of $20 million for diversion of inmates with mental illness away from jail and into community treatment.

    Sincerely,

    Susan C.

    Reply
  9. Gail E.
    Gail E. says:

    Dear Board of Supervisors,

    Please support Mark Ridley Thomas funding for jail diversion. This is vital to help people regain their life, save county funds, provide treatment options and keeps families united.

    I facilitate an LPS Mentoring Meeting and we have found that by treating people for their mental health, the county has saved more than $33,000. per person per year as opposed to not treating the illness. Our study demonstrated that the hospitalizations were reduced from 155 days to less than 1/2 day and incarcerations were reduced from 190 days to barely a day (.23 day).

    Please support this important funding in that this is a smart decision that benefits the county, families and especially the person.

    Thank you for putting mental health on the forefront. Our families greatly appreciate this very much.

    Gail

    Reply
  10. Helen B.
    Helen B. says:

    I strongly suppport BOS action for Funding and much needed treatments for our family members instead of jail or criminalization. I want to join my voice to this timely response that will mean million savings and an end to unnecessary pain and suffering. Thank you for your support of our family and community. I strongly commend BOS Mark Ridley-Thomas and this initiative leadership.

    Reply
  11. Mark G.
    Mark G. says:

    I urge as many of you as possible to fax in letters, call your Supervisor’s office, and join us to appear in person to show strong community support or testify in support of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ motion. Due to the importance of this vote, I will be attending the meeting to help coordinate our testimony. This is a very important day for NAMI and our justice-involved families. There is the stirrings of great change in our county but it will not happen without the fiscal commitment from our BOS

    I encourage everyone to at a minimum send an email (yes it makes a difference!!) and appear on Tuesday to show support.

    Reply
  12. starlyn
    starlyn says:

    I agree with the plan. The world has come full circle it seems to realizing that Mental institutions and hospitals are needed. I feel that the new places will be monitored better and will help everyone on a whole, since the study of mental health has advanced and we see that it is something that will not go away. The new places should be in an area of L.A. County that is open and has the space to accomodate a peaceful atmosphere for healing and care. As in the past most of the hospitals were away from the noise and stress of the city.

    Reply

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