Senate Health Committee discusses mental health services fund for county jails

On Wednesday, the California State Senate Health Committee held a hearing for a series of measures. One of the measures was SB 665: “The Mental Health Services Fund: county jails.” The bill aims to give individuals in county jails better access to mental health services and treatments they may need in order to help them successfully exit from jail. The bill is also an attempt to prevent recidivism. This piece of legislation was introduced by Senator Thomas Umberg. 

 

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SB 665 would use Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funds to provide services to individuals in a county jail or who are under mandatory supervision. This would not apply to those in state prisons and those in jail that are convicted of a felony. The use of these funds would go through the same public process required for all MHSA programing.

“With the number of incarcerated who are suffering from mental health issues and limited funding sources for treatment, it is critical to explore the flexibility of existing mental health funding sources and that is what this bill would do,” said Sen. Umberg.

The funds would improve access to mental health services in jails, funding services that reduce negative outcomes from untreated mental illness such as suicide, incarcerations, dropping out of school, unemployment, and homelessness. Examples of services include prevention, early intervention, crisis management, and administering certain medications when necessary.

“Orange County, for example, has approximately thirty percent of its incarcerated population with a mental health issue. In fact, county jail [is] probably the place where you see more individuals needing mental health treatment than any other group or grouping in the state,” said Sen. Umberg. 

Those in support of the bill emphasized the importance of this investment in making sure that those who are incarcerated and are going to be released receive mental health treatment to beat the odds of them going back to jail again. 

One of the witnesses in support, Richard Sanchez, Director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, expressed his concern about the lack of services offered. He says that to ensure the best outcome for these individuals, it is critical to create a system that supports their transition in and out of jail. 

“As the provider of mental health services, I recognize the simple reality that incarcerated persons with mental health issues are the same persons suffering with mental health upon their release. I see them on both sides, I see them when they are incarcerated, I see them when they are homeless on the street,” said Sanchez.

Another supporter of the bill, Amy Jenkins with the Orange County Board of Supervisors, stated that this bill gives the best possible opportunity for individuals to return to the community and be successful within the community.

Sen. Umberg concluded, “this is probably the most cost effective place to provide treatment in terms of recidivism, both for the individual, as well as the community.”

The bill passed out of committee and was sent to Appropriations on a 8-0 vote. The entire committee hearing is available here