Sixty percent of mentally ill inmates in county jails are eligible for diversion, but there are not enough facilities to provide supportive care, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Thousands of prisoners could be removed from the criminal justice system, ending the cycle of arrest, release, re-arrest, release and homelessness.
Sending such inmates to a diversion facility would save Los Angeles County thousands of dollars a day in incarceration costs. Individuals can be housed in a diversion facility for $70 a day versus $600 a day for incarceration, according to the article.
Thirty percent of the people in custody each day, about 6,000 prisoners, are either mentally ill or receiving psychotropic medication, according to a study by the non-profit research agency Rand Corp.
The Rand report confirmed an earlier study by the Office of Diversion and Reentry, (OODAR) which attempted to determine how much the county should scale up its community based mental health services.
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors created the Office of Diversion (OODAR) four years ago. Since then 4,400 prisoners convicted of felonies or ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial have been released, the L.A. Times reported.
According to retired Judge Peter Espinoza, who now directs OODAR, getting such inmates out of jail benefits both their clinical outcomes and the public’s safety.
“Often forgotten is that the vast majority of the people we’re talking about, they’re coming out of jail eventually –either to us or they’re going to be on their own,” Espinoza said.
“And we are satisfied that when they come to us, their outcomes are greatly improved and their recidivist behavior is greatly reduced,” he concluded.
“This makes sense. The outcomes for people will be so much better,” said County Supervisor Janice Hahn, while expressing frustration at how difficult it would be to win community approval for new locations of such facilities.
Other supervisors praised the diversion program but expressed concerns about scaling up to provide additional mental health facilities.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the board chair, still remains committed to building community clinics.
“It is all about access to outpatient care, until we do that, diversion is going to fail,” she said.