California's prison realignment initiative has changed how inmates with mental illnesses are treated during incarceration and after their release, KPCC's "KPCC News" reports (Shafer, "KPCC News," KPCC, 9/21).
About six years ago, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson appointed J. Clark Kelso to oversee the state's prison health care system after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of malpractice or neglect.
In May 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its inmate population to help improve prison health care (California Healthline, 7/16).
As part of the realignment initiative, counties assumed oversight responsibilities for low-level felons.
Counties Oversee Care
Before realignment began, individuals with mental illnesses received treatment at clinics run by the state parole department after being released from prison. Under realignment, counties are responsible for caring for individuals with mental illnesses after their release.
In addition, ex-inmates with substance use disorders can receive care under Project 180, a comprehensive re-entry program in Los Angeles.
Project 180 Executive Director Victoria Simon said, "[I]t's Project 180 staff, not probation, that knows the clients that are doing well, the clients that aren't doing well."
Francesca Anello with the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department said that under realignment, mental health teams operating in jails are better able to help prisoners have a smooth transition when they are released. Anello said, "We have a team that actually follows people for 30 days in the community to make sure all the supports are in place -- so it's kind of like a warm handoff so that they don't get re-incarcerated."
Comments on Realignment
L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley said that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) misled the state about the real intent of realignment.
He said, "It wasn't about public safety. It was not about rehabilitation, even though [officials] claimed it was," adding that the initiative instead primarily seeks to cut costs. Cooley added that some individuals who are released from prison still are a threat to the public ("KPCC News," KPCC, 9/21).