The Grand Jury Report on Homeless Mentally Ill Indigent Recidivism released on 5/26/11 documents the crisis posed by homeless mentally ill persons cycling through the infamous revolving door at a great cost to the county. This crisis was predictable, given:

* The lack of effective treatment options in our county for people experiencing a psychiatric crisis and/or self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and particularly the lack of acute hospital bed, intensive residential treatment beds and intensive case management.

* The fact that, on most days, there are NO psychiatric hospital beds and no intensive residential treatment beds available in Santa Barbara, despite the hundreds in critical need of one or both of these, who are sitting instead in jail, prison or on the streets.

* The privatization of jail mental health services. (Families ACT! took a stand against this decision by the County Supervisors almost 2 years ago.) see PHS track record at

Before PHS was contracted to do so, ADMHS had a Memorandum of Understanding with the Sheriff’s department to provide mental health services in the jail, and was doing an excellent job of it.

It is a dangerous precedent to relegate prison services to the private sector, especially at a time when individuals who are not essentially criminals are being confined against their will by default in an environment designed to punish, not heal. This gives the private corporation a stake in perpetuating a system which is cruel and unjust.

As we have seen with private health insurance, when the main objective is to turn a profit—even if it means denying services—people suffer.

We concurr with the Blue Ribbon Commission’s conclusions that “incarceration is neither an effective treatment for mental illness nor cost effective”

Crime in California 2009 Advance Release, a report released in 2009 by the California Attorney General’s Office documents a dramatic decline in property crimes and steady decrease in violent crimes since the early 1990’s and yet our county jail and our state prisons are dangerously crowded. Who, then, is filling our jails and prisons? The answer is “low-level offenders”: those with untreated mental health and substance use disorders who contribute to our 75% recidivism rate as they cycle in and out of the jail and prisons, most often on charges related to drug or alcohol abuse and often on minor probation or parole violations.

These facts attest to the failure of our policies to address mental illness and it’s often concomitant substance use in a compassionate, efficient and cost-effective manner.

The crisis posed by the revolving door, and the cost associated with it, will only escalate dramatically, if emergency measures are not taken now to begin reallocating funding from our criminal justice system to acute, intensive transitional treatment and case management to prevent more persons with mental health, substance use or co-occurring disorders from falling into homelessness and facing premature death due to suicide, overdose or neglect.

We concur with the Grand Jury that:

* “…the cost of jailing and tending to the medical needs of these individuals on an ad hoc, recurring basis, is greater than the cost of a planned and sustained effort that addresses their problems at the outset.”

* “Housing alone doesn’t help if those in need can’t receive treatment and be stabilized enough to succeed.”

* the following conditions need to be remedied ASAP:

Inadequate mental health screening during booking.

No comprehensive treatment or case-management follow-up.

No licensed treatment beds for the mentally ill.

Inadequate discharge planning.

Families ACT! is a local grassroots organization devoted to finding alternatives to incarceration for people with mental health and substance use disorders. Families ACT! took the initiative to convene a Task Force on Co-Occurring Disorders, bringing a wide variety of stakeholders together in a nonpolitical, collaborative forum to assess the status quo, address the critical gap in mental health and substance use disorders and explore options for redressing these gaps. Our final report includes recommendations for reallocating funding from the criminal justice system to sustainable programs designed to help people with co-occurring disorders recover their wellbeing and find employment or volunteer positions in social enterprises.

We, as a group of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, can attest to the process whereby someone with mental illness falls into homelessness despite the love and support of their family. Our mission is to educate public and find effective and compassionate alternatives to incarceration for people with mental health and substance use disorders and to help prevent homelessness, premature deaths from suicide, overdose and end Revolving Door.


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