Los Angeles County has agreed to new policies ensuring that all mentally ill jail inmates be given pre-discharge planning, including a referral to a social worker or prescription for medications, before they are set free, attorneys announced Friday.
According to the settlement agreement filed Thursday in Los Angeles federal court, previous inmate-release planning failed to adequately address the needs of mentally disabled prisoners under the American with Disabilities Act when released from custody by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The new procedures are aimed at stabilizing an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 mentally ill inmates who leave jail each month and helping them find housing, benefits and employment to help them avoid re-offending or going from jail to homelessness.
Specific highlights of the new policy include the involvement of release planners to oversee the inmate’s continued care; scheduling of the next mental health appointment; ensuring the inmate is released with a 14-day supply of medication; helping apply for and receive replacement identification cards; help for mentally ill homeless people who need assistance restarting suspended Social Security benefits or applying for new benefits; and help arranging transportation from the jail to a location identified in the release plan.
The previous discharge policy depended on a system of referrals that many mentally disabled people are not capable of navigating, and did not require any verification that the services at the end of the referrals were in fact available to that person.
Los Angeles County jails frequently have been referred to as the largest de facto mental health facility in the country. On any given day, the region’s jails house and treat an average of 3,500 to 4,000 mentally ill inmates — more than the number of patients managed in the entire California State Hospital system.
“We know that a healthy re-entry depends on a multifaceted support network, and we have expanded our guidelines to better plan for access to housing, transportation, bridge psychotropic medication, income and benefits establishment, family and social supports, and medical, mental health, and substance abuse treatment,” Los Angeles County Counsel Mary C. Wickham said. “We are also enhancing our efforts to connect individuals to community-based providers and available housing by providing transportation and other assistance if needed.
“Helping people rebuild their lives after incarceration is a key priority for the County,” she said. “These expanded guidelines give us new tools to help people with mental illness get the support they need to successfully re-enter the community.”