Criminal Justice Interventions to Reduce the Number of Suicides and Mentally Ill Individuals in California Jails
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California’s jails and prisons have become the state’s mental health facilities and people are dying. While more mentally ill individuals are being sent to jail, the system is ill equipped to effectively treat this vulnerable population which is leading to deaths and financial stress in the form of lawsuits. When mentally ill offenders are not given the treatment they need while incarcerated and return to the community, this continues the cycle of new arrests, new victims, and more tax dollars being spent on repeatedly incarcerating these individuals. What they really need is treatment, not incarceration. This capstone proposes addressing this problem through the Criminal Justice Interventions for Mentally Ill Individuals (CJIMII) policy. The goals are to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails by 24% by 2025 and reduce the number of deaths in jails by 50% by 2025. The CJIMII policy aims to divert mentally ill individuals from jail by expanding mental health courts throughout the state for defendants charged with nonviolent offenses. Violent offenses should be referred on a case-by-case basis. Another diversion element of the CJIMII policy is to expand the law enforcement – mental health practitioner partnership model to refer mentally ill individuals to mental health services and keeps them out of jail. While the main goal is to stop the flow of mentally ill individuals going to jail, there will still be a population of mentally ill offenders who have committed a crime serious enough which results in a jail sentence. The CJIMII policy proposes an intake process which gives the sheriff’s departments enough information to triage, using the Risk-Needs-Responsivity model. The CJIMII policy also recommends requiring mental health training for deputies so they are better equipped to identify and respond to suicide risks in a trauma-informed way. The CJIMII policy addresses the issue of the number of mentally ill individuals in jails and the high number of suicides by proposing methods, which have worked in counties in California.