Los Angeles County can safely divert thousands of people with mental illness into treatment and away from jail, according to a new study by nonprofit RAND Corp., a public-interest research organization.
The study found that more than 3,300 people with mental disorders currently in Los Angeles County jails are legally apt and clinically eligible for diversion to community-based treatment programs.
RAND concluded that 61% of the jail’s mental-health population meet the specifications used by the County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR) that establish whether a person may be presented as a candidate for diversion to the courts.
An additional seven percent of the jail’s mental health population are potentially eligible for diversion.
According to a media release from the office of Los Angeles County 2nd District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, ODR, which was created in 2016, is responsible for the diversion of 4,400 people from County jails into long-term care and supportive housing with low rates of recidivism.
The findings go on to show that a sizable proportion of the 3,300 people with mental disorders are likely to be homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Currently in County jail, 74% of women and 59% of men with a mental health disorder are appropriate candidates for diversion, RAND found.
In the study, RAND recommended the expansion of diversion programs and the tracking of outcomes. This includes the improvement of the County’s early diversion efforts, a preemptive attempt to help individuals before they enter the criminal justice system.
However, according to Shaunna Dandoy, public information officer for the Long Beach Police Department, there is no diversion program for individuals with mental illness currently in place in Long Beach.
“We do have resources such as our Mental Evaluation Team, Quality of Life Officers and Clinician in Jail, who assist individuals who come into contact with law enforcement at various levels,” Dandoy said in a statement to the Signal Tribune.
According to the media release, diversion programs cost the County approximately $70 per person compared to $600 daily per person for incarceration for those with serious clinical needs.
“No one can get well in a cell,” Ridley-Thomas said, who authored the motion that created ODR, in the media release. “With diversion, we are creating better outcomes for people and saving County resources- without compromising public safety.”
The study, which was independently conducted, came in response to a motion by Ridley-Thomas and Los Angeles County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
The findings are the first step in understanding what is needed for treatment of individuals in the community, said Stephanie Brooks, the lead author of the study and RAND behavioral scientist in the media release.
Brooks stated that knowing the size of the population appropriate for diversion will help in determining the types of programs, staff and funding needed for treatment.