Saturday, June 6, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 14

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 16th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 7 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 7

County outlines efforts to divert mentally ill from jail in 2019-20


Santa Barbara County is looking to address challenges with diverting individuals with mental illnesses out of jail and to a facility where they can receive help.

In a presentation during the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors’ budget workshop meeting on April 15, Barney Melekian, assistant county executive officer for public safety, said that over the last two years, the majority of the county’s jail inmates had some sort of mental illness.

“For as long as I can remember, law enforcement has been the first responder to issues dealing with the mentally ill,” Melekian said. “In addition, the number of mentally ill inmates ... [the] court system is bogged down with people arrested for offenses tied to their mental health status for a variety of reasons and those people who are judged to be incapable of standing trial and participating in their defense.”

In 2017 and 2018, 52 and 53 percent of all county jail inmates suffered from mental illnesses, respectively. Additionally, Melekian said, 12 percent of the jail’s inmates take psychotropic medications. Over the last few years, the county has started taking a collaborative approach, he said, with different county departments working together to try to address this problem.

For example, the county is testing out a pilot program that partners law enforcement officers and trained mental health professionals to respond to calls for services. Between September 2018 and March 2019, the team responded to 115 calls for service with only four calls resulting in an arrest.

To fund its programs and operations, the Behavioral Wellness department presented the county supervisors with a recommended budget for 2019-20 of $142.7 million, with 59 percent of the funding used for mental health outpatient and community services. This is a slight increase from the department’s recommended 2018-19 budget, which was $133.9 million.

Outside of the department’s budget, the county is relying on state-funded grants it has received or is applying for to implement new mental health programs.

County Behavioral Wellness Director Alice Gleghorn said the county has received a $3.1 million grant for the next three years that will allocate funding to an effort to move individuals who have committed felonies but aren’t fit to stand trial out of the criminal justice system and into a treatment facility. According to her presentation, the county plans to implement this program during the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Melekian said the county has also applied for a $6 million grant over three years that would allow the county to open a sobering center and a crisis hub where law enforcement officers can bring people who are found acting out in public or committing crimes, but don’t need to go to jail.

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said it’s apparent that the county has made strides in addressing the number of individuals with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system, but he believes the only way for the county to determine whether these system changes are working is by evaluating programs on a client-by-client basis.

“We need to have a better evaluation of how we’re doing on a person-to-person basis so that we can make sure we are allocating the dollars, which are finite, to the best purpose,” Adam said.

After holding budget workshops between April 15 and 19, the county plans to hold public budget adoption hearings on June 11 and 13. While discussing the county’s overall recommended budget for 2019-20, 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he is pleased this is the county’s first budget in almost 10 years that doesn’t include reductions in services.

“Budgeting is a balancing act between what we really need to do and what we want to do,” Lavagnino said. “[This is the] first budget without service level reductions since 2007. We’re at least addressing everything we need.”

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What do you think about Aera Energy canceling its project in Cat Canyon?

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