Across the United States, prisons and jails are brimming with people who suffer from mental health issues. It is true: more than half of the prison population and more than two-thirds of those in jails suffer from mental health problems. If you or a loved one has such issues and is arrested, you know that jail is simply not the best place to wind up. Are there other options in California?
The Cycle Continues
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) people behind bars who suffer from mental health issues often have previous convictions and tend to serve longer sentences than the average offender. Any health issues — and mental health conditions in particular — tend to get worse without treatment, which can result in further problems with the criminal justice system. It is a vicious cycle that needs solutions.
Crisis Intervention Teams
Since police are usually the first on the scene of an altercation involving someone who suffers from mental health issues, states across the country are developing Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT’s) to assist with evaluation and de-escalation in crisis situations. The result is fewer arrests, access to diversion programs and services, and fewer injuries to offenders, police and others. Police and CIT members work together to impact communities by reducing severe outcomes involving the mentally ill. With teams of mental health workers, better trained police know how to interview, negotiate, and identify the effects of drugs, which means criminally involved or suicidal individuals get lifesaving help instead of simply being arrested.
In addition to pre-arrest interventions, many states direct arrestees to diversion courts instead of incarceration, giving people the chance to take responsibility for their actions, get the help they need, and have their records cleared in time. Studies show this can result in shorter sentences and fewer re-arrests.
Hope in California
The future looks bright for mental health intervention in California. Crisis Intervention Teams are embedded in police departments across the state, providing training for officers and redirecting offenders to support programs that can help instead of simply punish. The state has budgeted tens of millions of dollars to address the increasing challenges associated with the homeless population, substance use disorders, and mental illness, all of which may interact and lead to criminal activities. The state is committed to improving outreach and mental health diversion programs, while minimizing involvement with the criminal justice system. Another thing California is doing to improve outcomes for those with mental health issues is suspending Medicaid coverage during incarceration, rather than canceling it altogether. This can be important for those looking for treatment options and can reduce the chances of re-arrest. Continue reading