The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) and the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law published A Way Forward, a report that sets forth recommendations that would allow Los Angeles County officials to establish and implement diversion programs for inmates with mental illness charged with non-violent offenses. Such programs save money, improve public safety by dramatically reducing recidivism and reduce jail overcrowding.
L.A. County’s jail system is the nation’s largest psychiatric institution. On any given day, an estimated 3,200 inmates diagnosed with a severe mental illness crowd the jails. The number of suicides has increased over a two-year span, and inmates with mental illness are more likely to suffer abuse at the hands of other inmates or jail staff. The recidivism rates among inmates with mental illness are extraordinarily high.
In June 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that L.A. County violates the constitutional rights of inmates by failing to provide adequate mental health care and appropriate suicide prevention policies. DOJ encouraged the county’s efforts to expand diversion programs for those inmates with mental illness.
Diversion programs direct people with mental illness who have been arrested or are incarcerated for non-violent offenses to effective community-based programs that combine treatment with supportive housing, as well as medication management and employment assistance.