Crime rates and violent crime have overall decreased countywide, but arrest rates remain high and caseloads for public defenders are increasing. The Public Defender’s Office is requesting a Public Administrator, an additional attorney, and the conversion of an existing part-time investigator to a full-time regular position to meet the growing demands of conservatorship services for those affected by mental health issues. There has been a sharp increase in individuals found Incompetent to Stand Trial (IST), according to the board letter at last week’s budget workshop. Because the number of individuals found to be IST has increased, so too have the number of court-ordered investigations. In the last five years, investigations have increased 500 percent, from six cases in fiscal year 2014-15 to 40 in 2017-18. Santa Barbara County is in the top 15 of California’s 58 counties for IST and arrest rates per capita.
The current attorney caseload within the Public Defender’s Office is 268 probate conservatorships, for people disabled due to a degenerative mental or physical disease; 137 LPS conservatorships, for adults who are “gravely disabled” due to a mental disorder; and 72 writs, to determine whether an individual is being unlawfully detained in custody. The county has been working for several years to divert the mentally ill from the criminal justice system. Some of the many programs in place include Behavior Wellness’s Justice Alliance Program and crisis co-response team (CRT) collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Misdemeanor Diversion Program, and the Public Defender Pre-Arraignment Unit and holistic defense model.