As is noted in this article, Santa Barbara County has had but 16 beds for the care of 5150 WIC referrals (probably for as long as that statute has been on the books). [WIC stands for Welfare & Institutions Code] But the reason for that absurd limitation should be addressed.

The Psychiatric Health Facility (euphemistically called “Puff”) has been so limited by intentional administrative policy of successive County Health Department directors. They have chosen to fill the limited beds with cases they select while directing the other cases into alternative facilities, which usually means the county jail if the detention is associated with any kind of possible crime.

In my time as Public Defender, I recall being told by County Mental Health workers that “criminals” shouldn’t be in their facility. This policy has resulted in the jail becoming the de facto mental health detention center with disastrous consequences.

Jailers are not mental-health workers. As well-intentioned as they may be, they are not trained to this task, they do not have the time to attend to this task, they do not have the medical resources needed for this task, and they operate in an environment that is destructive of the individual subject to mental-health problems.

While I applaud the increase in the use of 5150 WIC detentions being proposed, I urge the Board of Supervisors and the County Health (Behavioral Wellness) director to create beds outside of penal institutions for the acceptance and care of these needy people.

Glen Mowrer was the Santa Barbara County Public Defender for 24 years.


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