Mental Health In County Jails And California’s Mental Health Diversion Program
One thing that any criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles or any other southern California community knows is that the area’s county jails have become the largest mental health provider in each respective county. You can trace this back some 50 years to the closing of many mental health hospitals, but the fact is, county jail is the de facto treatment center.
In the local southern California counties, the mentally ill inmate population has been on a steady incline over the years. The percentage of inmate with some identifiable mental health issue is up to 25% in San Bernardino County, 30% in Orange and Los Angeles Counties and up to 45% in Riverside County.
While county jail is not the preferred place to treat the mentally ill, counties are at a loss when it comes to resources and the ability to divert mentally ill persons who may commit crimes, many of those crimes a result of their mental illness. There have been numerous lawsuits against county jails that arise out of unhealthy conditions, cramped and crowded environments, being kept in isolation, and lack of supervision, therapy and appropriate medication.
As a result of these lawsuits and their settlements, Los Angeles County has given their jail deputies better training for handling and identifying mental health issues and suicidal risks, removed certain suicide hazards from housing areas and have improved the wait time for new at-risk inmates to be screened.
Los Angeles County will also be replacing the old and outdated Men’s Central Jail with a new facility that will be focused on mental health and run by the county health department.
One other option if you or a loved one suffers from a mental illness and has been charged with a crime in Los Angeles County is the county’s (relatively) new mental health diversion program in the courts. This program has been codified in California Penal code section 1001.36.
This diversion allows judges the discretion to help criminal defendants who suffer from a mental illness to obtain treatment in lieu of the more traditional penalties such as jail or state prison and convictions on their criminal record.
Some key points of this diversion program are that it applies to both misdemeanors and felonies and it can be implemented at any point during the criminal proceedings, until trial. Additionally, the treatment must meet the accused’s needs, it may be obtained through private or government funds, it must provide the court regular progress reports and it can last no longer than 2 years. If a person is successful with mental health diversion, their criminal cases will be dismissed and the arrest record will be sealed for most purposes. It will almost be as if the arrest never took place.
In order to qualify for mental health diversion, all of the following must be met:
- The defendant must show that they suffer from a mental health disorder
- The disorder must have played a significant role in the commission of the crime
- A qualified mental health expert must give the opinion that the defendant would respond to mental health treatment
- The defendant must consent to the mental health treatment
- The defendant must agree to comply with treatment as a condition of diversion
- The court must believe the defendant will not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety
If you or someone you know suffers from a mental illness and has been charged with a crime in Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Bernardino County or Riverside County, contact Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer Ross Erlich today for a free consultation.