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ACLU Seeks Alternatives For Mentally Ill Heading to Jail

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Diversion programs may keep mentally ill inmates out of jail and get them the help they need, found the report.
Diversion programs may keep mentally ill inmates out of jail and get them the help they need, found the report.  | Photo: Michael Coghlan/flickr/Creative Commons License

The ACLU and Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law released a report on Tuesday outlining recommendations that would help establish alternatives to jail that would better serve inmates with mental illness who have been charged with non-violent offenses.

There are approximately 3,200 inmates diagnosed with severe mental illness in the county, according to the report, which found that these inmates are jailed longer and are more likely to cycle in and out of jail.

"We want to remove people with mental illness from a punitive correction setting to a treatment setting," said Terry Kupers, M.D, and professor of The Wright Institute who also consulted on the report. "It is impossible to do that in jail."

Dave Pilon, President and CEO of Mental Health America Los Angeles, said there is currently less of a stigma around mental health and there is certainly a will to change a system that has become "unsuitable."

The report recommends the county develop a program that integrates community mental health services and supportive housing.

"People are also getting in touch with the human cost," added Pilon.

A human cost that was brought to light in June when the Department of Justice reported that Sheriff's Department had failed to protect the rights of inmates with mental illness, noting ten suicides by inmates in 2013.

The Sheriff's Department told KCET in a statement that they supportive of alternatives. "Currently, Los Angeles County engages in mental health diversion through specialized courts and we are actively involved in the expansion of those programs," the department said. "We believe we will be benefiting with increased State funding established in the current budget to enhance those services as well as new opportunities that the Affordable Care Act provides for this population."

The report also cites the success rate of many diversion programs that are already working in Los Angeles County area that with expansion could lead to a hire success rate of people getting help.

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