Mentally Ill Inmates to Get Treatment

Santa Barbara County Gets $2.6M to Divert Felons from Jail into Residential Treatment

Because of the lack of mental-health beds —only 16 in the county —the county jail’s Psychiatric Health Facility houses the largest amount of mentally ill individuals in the county. | Credit: Paul Wellman

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At least 18 individuals who committed felonies as a result of mental illness will be diverted from the Santa Barbara County Jail into residential treatment over the next three years.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a grant agreement with the Department of State Hospitals to accept $2,644,500 for the county to provide community mental-health treatment ​— including residential treatment ​— for felony mental-health diversion clients. 

The grant requires that a minimum of 18 individuals whose felony charges stemmed from mental illness, who have been deemed incompetent to stand trial and who don’t pose a threat to the public, are taken to residential treatment centers instead of jail over the grant’s three-year period, from January 1, 2020, through December 31, 2022.

Santa Barbara County has been under strain from its lack of beds for mental-health patients. Under the new Pre-Trial Felony Diversion Program, the county’s Department of Behavioral Wellness will not reinvent the wheel to create more beds. Instead, it will leverage existing restorative treatment models to develop a six-bed residential treatment center for the clients, including on-site security and clinical staff.

Because of the lack of mental-health beds  ​— only 16 in the county ​— the county jail houses the largest amount of mentally ill individuals in the county. According to an October 2017 single-day census in the board report, 52 percent of the 1,051 inmates had a history of receiving mental-health services from country providers. 

With the supes’ approval of the grant, the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, and the Department of Behavioral Wellness will collaborate to develop a protocol for selecting mentally ill inmates for the program.

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