The Santa Barbara County Jail

Paul Wellman (file)

The Santa Barbara County Jail

Less Jailing Results in Fewer Psych Hospitalizations

Nine Months In, Laura’s Law Program Showing Success

In its nine months of operation, mentally ill patients participating in the county’s new Laura’s Law program were 40 percent less likely to get booked in County Jail than they had been before, two-thirds less likely to be checked in to a psychiatric emergency room, 63 percent less likely to be placed in a psychiatric hospital, and 61 percent less likely to be the subject of a crisis call.

The program, the subject of intense controversy before its truncated launch last year, relies on a combination of aggressive outreach to individuals most resistant to mental-health treatment coupled with the threat of intervention by a judge. To date, no “black-robe therapy” has been dispensed, and the outreach has been relatively robust.

So far, 42 percent of the people contacted ​— ​half of whom are homeless, 75 percent of whom have serious addiction problems, and 44 percent of whom were on probation ​— ​have engaged in treatment within six weeks of first contact. A total of 783 engagement contacts have been made; half of those involved people contacted three times a week. The average age of those being called about was 40; half the calls originated with family members.

Mental-health advocates had lobbied the county supervisors for years to adopt a countywide variant of Laura’s Law ​— ​a statewide law named after a woman murdered by a mentally ill patient ​— ​but supervisors and mental-health department officials resisted on the grounds of cost and resource distraction. They also have claimed that the benefits claimed by the program ​— ​increasingly embraced throughout the state ​— ​have been exaggerated. Supporters contend the results of the first audit, conducted by the firm Harder+Company Community Research, demonstrates otherwise.

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