By Nadine Ono.
The Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC) last week released a draft report from yearlong investigation into the intersection of people with mental health needs and the criminal justice system. Titled “Together We Can: Reducing Criminal Justice Involvement for People Living with Mental Illness,” the report outlines the Commission’s findings and proposes recommendations to ease this growing crisis.
“Jails are simply not set up or equipped for providing mental health treatment for the most part. They’re not appropriate places for severely mentally ill people,” said MHSOAC Commissioner and Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, who led the investigation. “We really wanted to try to see if we can come up with a way to put in one fairly short report, some ideas and some examples of good programs, good training, good alternatives and diversions for people who would otherwise enter the criminal justice system by highlighting some of the things that we saw.”
The Commission convened public hearings, community forums and site visits across the state to gather research from various stakeholders, including law enforcement, consumers, family members, behavioral health departments, hospitals, the judicial system. Members also visited successful programs in other states and participated in local and national initiatives aimed at reducing the number of people with mental health needs in the criminal justice system.
The report will offer a set of recommendations that include: the promotion of comprehensive planning strategies to address unmet needs before they reach the attention of law enforcement, the expansion of in-custody treatment options for local jails, collaboration among state agencies, and the use of data to improve service and guide investments and expand the state’s technical resources.
“Our hope is that this report will be used by law enforcement, executives, decision-makers in county governments, chief executives officers, by members of Boards of Supervisors and by members of the legislature and the Governor’s office to be a roadmap on how we can work together collaboratively,” added Brown. “Everybody has a role to play. The locals obviously have a significant role, but the state has a role as well in terms of coordinating and providing technical assistance.”
The first draft of the report was unveiled at the Commission’s Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Mental Health meeting. At that meeting, the Subcommittee reviewed the report, made revisions and voted to send the report to the full Commission, which will be held in Los Angeles on October 26. The final report is expected to be released later in the year.