Crime & Justice

Legislators want to increase funds for diverting mentally ill from jails and prisons

Inmates are moved at the Los Angeles County Jail
Inmates are moved at the Los Angeles County Jail
Courtesy Los Angeles County

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State and local officials gathered in Sacramento Thursday to signal growing political support for addressing the high number of mentally ill inmates in county jails across the state, introducing legislation seeking a tiny increase in funds for programs - and vowing to convene a summit to search for solutions.

"It's quite staggering," said Senator Bob Hertzberg of the San Fernando Valley. Los Angeles alone has about 3,500 inmates who require medication--that's about 20 percent of the total jail population.

He introduced legislation asking that $13 million be added to a pot of grant funds counties can apply for to start programs with such goals. He said the first round of $50 million in funding, announced last year, immediately maxed out. He said the extra cash would at least cover the programs that have applied for state grants so far.

"The cost of incarcerating people is so much greater than to treat them," he said. "And not only is it the humane thing to do, it's the smart thing to do."

Hertzberg joined other lawmakers and Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, said they plan to convene a summit next year to bring sheriffs together from all over the state to brainstorm and share ways of addressing the mentally ill jail population.

L.A. County has been examining its own criminal justice system for potential overhaul. District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who's been leading a working group on the issue, is expected to reveal a set of proposals for diverting mentally ill offenders this summer.