The L.A. County Health Agency is mobilizing stakeholders to divert low-level offenders away from jails and into the right settings for restorative health
The stark and staggering reality is that the L.A. County jail system is the largest mental health institution in the nation. Decades of defunding have shuttered state mental hospitals and left fractured systems of care for those living in our communities in desperate need of mental health services. Jails are not the right settings for low-level offenders with mental illness, yet these aging facilities are where thousands linger after being arrested for petty theft, sleeping in a public park, or displaying erratic public behavior. When they enter the justice system, many don’t even understand the charges against them. For those charged with misdemeanors who are incompetent to stand trial, they can linger in jail cells for months or up to a year or longer. In concert with the District Attorney and the criminal courts system, the Health Agency is working to transform the criminal justice system by diverting low-level offenders who are mentally incompetent away from jail cells and into community-based settings where they can get the medical, behavioral health, and substance abuse treatment they need. When those needs are met in meaningful ways, these individuals can begin leading healthy and productive lives. By bringing together stakeholders and criminal justice advocates to mobilize and change public policy amidst national discussions occurring on criminal justice reform, we are on the path to providing the right care for this population – lifting them from the snares of the justice system and at the same time reducing jail overcrowding and overburdened hospital emergency rooms.