Advocates for prison inmates are criticizing the practice of holding individuals with mental illnesses who are deemed incompetent to stand trial in jail for months while waiting for state hospital beds to become available, the Sacramento Bee reports.
The Sacramento Bee article was produced by the California HealthCare Foundation's Center for Health Reporting. The Center is supported by a grant from CHCF, which publishes California Healthline.
In recent years, California counties have sustained severe cuts to mental health programs.
The state reduced mental health funding by $765 million -- more than one-fifth of its mental health budget -- from 2009 to 2012, according to a report from National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Meanwhile, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has determined that the number of state prison inmates with mental illnesses has increased from 19% in 2007 to 25% in 2012.
Randall Hagar -- director of government affairs for the California Psychiatric Association -- said that in many counties, patients with serious mental health conditions often wait three to six months in jail before a state hospital bed becomes available.
According to data from the sheriff's department in Stanislaus County, the number of inmates with mental illnesses in the local jail increased by nearly 50% in the past six years.
Prisoner health advocates say that the combination of mental health cuts, a decreasing number of state hospital beds and prison realignment plans are exacerbating the problem (Weiner, Sacramento Bee, 5/27).
In May 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its inmate population to help improve health care. Since then, the state has begun shifting low-level offenders to county jails to address prison overcrowding (California Healthline, 5/17).
Pilot Program Could Offer Solution
Hagar said San Bernardino County has piloted a program that would help inmates with mental illnesses being held in jails. Inmates participating in the program can receive the medication and education services needed to restore competency rather than waiting for the treatment at hospitals, according to Hagar.
Lawmakers have introduced a bill (AB 1693) that would expand the pilot program to a few other counties (Sacramento Bee, 5/27).