Santa Barbara County's Main Jail | Credit: Google Earth

Mental-health advocates are sounding the alarm over the lack of facilities to treat the high number of inmates now in County Jail because they’ve been deemed incompetent to stand trial. According to a memo from Lynne Gibbs, chief policy advocate for the local chapter of NAMI — National Alliance on Mental Illness — there are currently 26 inmates in Santa Barbara County Jail awaiting trial on felony charges and 15 facing misdemeanor charges. 

Those facing felony charges must by law be sent to one of several state psychiatric hospitals for treatment, but the waiting list for spaces in such institutions is frequently longer than the sentences they’d receive if they were tried and found guilty. As for those facing misdemeanor charges, county officials have initiated various rehabilitation efforts in the County Jail, but with mixed success. 

County mental-health administrators have purchased two beds at the Crestwood Champion Healing Center in Lompoc, which opened two years ago, with plans for eventually adding four to six more.

Gibbs dismissed this as “tragically insufficient” and is pushing for the special committee overseeing one-time state funds to use that money to pay for more beds in secure treatment centers for incarcerated people suffering from mental illness. A program launched in 2017 would have set aside $3 million in one-time state Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) funding for the construction of a new forensic treatment facility on county-owned land off Calle Real, but it was dropped when the initial cost estimates came in $2.1 million higher than that. A meeting to discuss the use of CCP funds is scheduled for this Friday. “One doesn’t need to be a data analyst to know which way the wind blows,” Gibbs stated in an email. “We are in severe need of treatment beds.”

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