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Commentary by Sheriff Alex Villanueva
| Monday, Apr 22, 2019
Los Angeles County Sheriff Villanueva

Los Angeles County Sheriff Villanueva

In August 2018, the County Board of Supervisors directed the Department of Health Services to coordinate a study of the Los Angeles County jail mental health population to determine who would be eligible for diversion and reentry programs based on their clinical conditions and criminal charges. As a result of that request, a comprehensive study is currently being conducted by a team of researchers from various outside organizations, including the RAND Corporation. This comprehensive study will include input from all involved stakeholders.

In advance of the results of this study, the Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR) conducted a preliminary snapshot study to assess the future potential for diverting more mentally ill patients away from the jails and into community based programs. The ODR correctly identified there is a great need for the expansion of community infrastructure and internal programming in order to support the growing needs of this population. However, the ODR also estimated based on their preliminary study, more than half of the jail mental health population (currently 2,875 inmates) would be appropriate for safe release into community-based services, if sufficient services were available.

The Sheriff’s Department fully supports all efforts to divert more mentally ill inmates from a custodial environment to community based mental health support programs. The stark reality is we also need a therapeutic environment for those mentally ill inmates who must remain in custody. Unfortunately, due to violent offenders and the need to balance diversion with public safety, there will always be a need for mental health beds within our jails. Although we have an overall population of approximately 17,000 inmates on any given day, the rate of mentally ill inmates continues to climb year after year.

Currently, 32% of inmates in our custody have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness, and all the County’s efforts in the area of mental health diversion have not impacted the jail’s Average Daily Inmate Population (ADIP). ODR has diverted over 3,000 mentally ill inmates from our jails over the past two years. Approximately 298 inmates are processed into our jails per day. This translates to a reduction of only four inmates per day being processed. In order to reduce the average daily population in our jails by 2,875 inmates (which ODR claims are eligible for diversion), they would be required to divert 18,250 inmates per year, or an average of 50 inmates per day. This new goal would require ODR to increase their productivity by over 1,000%, which seems unattainable under current conditions.

The Sheriff’s Department anxiously awaits the results of the RAND Corporation study in the hopes it will provide a roadmap for us all to understand the complex and comprehensive needs of the mentally ill, in custody as well as in the community, and to address this ever growing population. The Sheriff’s Department truly believes we can and will continue to expand our efforts to provide our mentally ill population, as well as all inmates in our custody, the best of care. I am inspired by all the efforts being made in Los Angeles County to address the needs of the mentally ill.

 

Alex Villanueva is sheriff of Los Angeles County.

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