California Lawmakers Concerned that Prisons Are The New Mental Health Hospitals
Lacking access to treatment options, Californians with serious mental illnesses often end up jailed instead.
State Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, and former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, are now advancing the effort to reduce the number of mentally ill inmates by creating and enhancing local alternative custodial programs focused on mental health treatment. Their general proposal is to use $14 million in crime reduction grants to treat currently-incarcerated offenders with mental illnesses.
The sheer number of inmates in both County jails and State prisons has been a problem since the Reagan Administration. But, the number of mentally ill prisoners has risen dramatically in recent years and is now reaching a crisis point. It is almost as if the State has come full circle since the early 1980s and now the county jails and state prisons have become the new mental health institutions. This critical state of affairs now has mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, and now politicians demanding changes in the State’s policy on how people with mental illnesses are treated. Lawmakers say the jails are becoming a revolving door, placing potentially dangerous people back in neighborhoods.
“This is not a new problem but it is a growing problem,” said Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.
“Its a big issue. A lot of folks who are in county jail right now shouldn’t be there. they should be treated,” said Assemblyman Jim Cooper.
There now seems to be a growing consensus among public servants that a new method of handling people with mental illnesses would reduce criminal behavior and reduce recidivism. Many are starting to seek out sources of funding for new initiatives from private charitable foundations and government grants. Others are looking for ways that some of the current tax revenues can be redirected to residential housing and proper mental health treatment of people with mental illnesses. Some supporters have even suggested that all county leaders need to do is pass a resolution supporting a new, alternative method of handling people with mental illnesses, and they will raise the money.
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