[Monterey County] County commits to reducing mental illness in jail

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.

SALINAS — Monterey County has signed onto a nationwide effort to addressing the high numbers of mentally ill inmates in the County Jail.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution joining the nationwide Stepping Up Initiative coalition dedicated to the cause, entitled “Stepping Up to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails.”

The resolution commits the county, led by the County Administrative Office, Sheriff’s Office, and the Probation and Health Departments, to a “call to action” that includes “sharing lessons” learned from other counties in the state and nationally in support of the national initiative, as well as using “comprehensive resources” available through the Stepping Up Initiative.

According to the resolution, an estimated 2 million people with “serious” mental illnesses are booked into jails nationally every year, three-quarters of them with substance use disorders, and the rate of mental illness is three to six times higher in jails than for the general public. It also points out that county jails spend two or three times as much on adults with mental illnesses than other inmates, and people with mental illnesses tend to end up cycling through the criminal justice system if they don’t have access to treatment and services.

The resolution calls for the county to convene a “diverse” team of area leaders to pursue safe reduction of mentally ill in the jail, collect and review data and assess individual needs to “better identify” adults entering the jail with mental illnesses and their recidivism risk to help guide decision-making, examine local treatment and service capacity and identify state and local policy and funding barriers, develop a plan with measurable outcomes, implement research-based approaches to advancing the plan, and create a process for tracking progress.

It notes the County Jail has already implemented a number of changes aimed at improving mental health services, largely in response to a 2013 class action lawsuit settlement, including with regard to intake screening, suicide risk assessment and mitigation, reduction is the use of safety cells, development of individual treatment plans, medication continuity, mental health clinical staffing levels, and mental health training.

The jail has also undergone a hazard reduction project to reduce jumping or falling locations in high-risk inmate housing areas, and increased time outside of cells, individual program time, group therapy, self-help and socialization skills for high-risk inmates, according to the resolution.

Supervisor Luis Alejo noted the 2016-17 civil grand jury addressed the issue of mental health in the jail in a report entitled “Monterey County Jail Crisis: Our De Facto Mental Health Facility,” which looked into the class action lawsuit challenging conditions in the jail and the resulting changes in the facility.

The grand jury found that about 45 percent of jail inmates deal with mental illness. It recommended the county fund construction of a new mental health facility or find space to serve as a mental health treatment site, and that the county Behavioral Health agency’s services be integrated into the jail rather than relying on independent contractor California Forensic Medical Group.

Supervisor John Phillips, a former Superior Court judge, said defendants with mental illness were the “most difficult” cases and tended to cycle through the court system many times because treatment services were inadequate. Phillips said it was good to see the Sheriff’s Office and Health Department working together on the issue.

Supervisor Chris Lopez, who serves on the county’s Behavioral Health Commission, noted that May is Mental Health Awareness month.

April 30, 2019

Monterey Herald

By Jim Johnson

County: