Ahead of a key committee vote on Monday in Sacramento, state Sen. Tom Umberg joined with Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do and Sheriff Don Barnes in touting a bill that would provide more mental health services for jail inmates.
The bill from Umberg — a Garden Grove Democrat — provides more funding for mental health services in jails statewide.
The bill was expected to be considered Monday before the senate appropriations committee prior to heading to the Assembly.
The bill would allow for officials to use money from the Mental Health Services Act on inmates charged with a misdemeanor or who have not been convicted of a felony.
Barnes said the number of inmates requiring mental health services has grown so exponentially in recent years that his jail has become a de facto mental health facility.
“If we’re going to be a mental health hospital then we’re going to be a good one,” Barnes said at a news conference outside the jail with Umberg, Do and Orange County Health Care Agency Director Richard Sanchez.
The “ultimate goal” of the program would be to help inmates while in custody and to stabilize them when they exit the jail.
“I’m in the business of putting myself out of business,” Barnes said of the program’s other goal, which is to cut down on recidivism.
“This is an investment to ensure that those who mare going to be released from our county jails have the mental health treatment they may require,” Umberg said. “With this, the odds of recidivism decrease dramatically.”
About one-third of the jail population has some sort of mental health issue, statistics show.
Last year, the sheriff handled about 61,000 bookings — including inmates booked multiple times — with 9,200 people classified as mentally ill and about 2,200 considered severely or chronically mentally ill, Barnes said.
“Jails are not the place to treat the mentally ill, but it is the place where they sometimes end up,” Barnes said.
“When they’re in custody we have the best opportunity” to help them, Do said.
Do said the county is “beefing up our entire mental health delivery system, so that there is better coordination of all components of care, which include physical health, mental health and substance use disorder.”
Umberg’s bill makes it easier for county officials to help inmates “transition into our system of care once they are out of custody.”
Do added, “We have learned through the homeless crisis how important it is to provide access to services immediately and conveniently… We need to do what we can to help individuals living with mental illness. They are suffering, and the lack of adequate and effective care is the reason many recidivate, further draining limited resources from our system. We must do all we can to provide them with the opportunity to reenter successfully into society. Otherwise, we will continue cycling people through our jails, and putting our community at risk in the process.”