Lawmaker claims that state money isn’t enough to meet the needs of California’s growing mentally ill inmate population
According to state Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), additional funding is not enough to help California’s mentally ill inmate population, which has grown 33 percent over the last three years. Sen. Beall’s claim came after Gov. Jerry Brown earmarked $117 million in his new state budget to expand the number of treatment beds and mental health programs for over 800 mentally ill inmates found incompetent to stand trial. Apparently, judges have been increasingly referring defendants to treatment, which has state officials struggling to keep up with the needs of the mentally ill inmate population. Sen. Beall believes that legislators need to update the laws used by judges to evaluate the mental health of people charged with crimes. At a budget committee hearing in February, Sen. Beall stated,
It seems to me that the courts, the behavioral health people, law enforcement, social work — everybody should get together and try to solve that problem. Because it’s like a bottomless pit if we don’t reform.
Apparently under California law, a judge can find a person charged with a crime incompetent to stand trial if they have a mental disorder or developmental disability that prevents them from understanding court proceedings or helping their lawyer with their defense. Defendants are supposed to be moved to a state hospital, a community mental health facility or a special jail unit to receive treatment for 180 days before undergoing another court evaluation, but this depends on the severity of the alleged crime. Felony defendants are able to repeat that legal process for up to three years, and misdemeanor inmates can do this for up to one year. If an inmate does not improve, he or she can be placed under the care of a guardian or organization and some are confined in mental health facilities, however, most are released back on the streets without resources to address their chronic conditions.
According to state data, there were 840 inmates, as of December 2017, in county jails that were awaiting space in state hospitals or other treatment facilities. Sen. Beall has introduced a bill that would allow judges to place mentally ill defendants in pretrial diversion programs for up to two years in lieu of prosecution. However, a similar proposal that Sen. Beall introduced last year was shelved due to fiscal concerns. We will have to wait and see if his bill passes or if other solutions to the growing number of mentally ill inmates are created.