Pauli Halstead: Justice that heals — a new vision for Nevada County |

Pauli Halstead: Justice that heals — a new vision for Nevada County

Jails are not designed for mental health treatment. Nevada County continues to be ill-prepared to care for and treat those with mental health disorders in the justice system. Incarcerating individuals with mental illness in the county jail actually impedes their treatment and rehabilitation, making it more difficult for them to successfully re-enter the community. Releasing individuals who need ongoing mental health treatment undermines long-term community safety by increasing recidivism.

Sixty-four percent of jail inmates across the country have mental health problems. Individuals with serious mental illness are underrepresented in the criminal justice system. Many lack proper diagnosis and a specific treatment plan. Repeat offenders are presenting with more severe mental illness and acute symptoms than ever before. This is reflected in our daily Jail Media Report, available online. The result is less public safety and trust in our judicial system, as many are returned to the community after a short stay in jail. Monitoring these individuals post-release, especially when homeless, is problematic.

What, then, is the solution? We can look to San Francisco, which has implemented a new program via a centralized service center, The Behavioral Health Justice Center:

“The proposed BHJC ensures public safety by providing mental health services designed to interrupt the cycle of homelessness, addiction, and criminal activity. Central to the concept is a system of interconnected components that creates a continuum of mental health care services. The BHJC will provide, for the first time, a purposeful, coordinated system of care with different levels of service and appropriate treatment options for individuals with mental illness in the justice system. The BHJC has four tiers of service and treatment to address four distinct levels of need. Participation at all four levels will be voluntary.

“Level 1: Emergency mental health reception center and respite beds. A 24-hour venue for police to bring individuals experiencing a mental health episode for an initial mental health assessment.

“Level 2: Short-term (two to three weeks) transitional housing and on-site residential treatment.

“Level 3: Long-term residential dual diagnosis treatment. Longer-term intensive residential psychiatric care and substance abuse treatment in an unlocked setting.

“Level 4: Secure inpatient transitional care unit. Short-term, voluntary inpatient treatment for persons with mental illness transitioning to community-based residential treatment programs.”

The proposed program would be a collaborative interagency navigation center designed to bridge the gap between our criminal justice system and community-based treatment programs for mentally ill individuals. It would ensure diversion at the earliest possible point, many times in the camps or on the street. Instead of an arrest, the person would immediately be placed in treatment. The co-location of these services across the continuum will provide a seamless system of care for those with mental illness that will help them exit the criminal justice system.

The newly created crisis teams — supported by the Sheriff’s Office, Behavioral Health, Grass Valley Police Department and Hospitality House — will assist in making contacts in the community, steering people into services rather than jail. The HOME team also does much of the contacting and redirecting of people to shelter and services.

Now that the juvenile hall will no longer house juveniles, that facility could provide the perfect use for a residential and day reporting treatment center. Many of our repeat offending, mentally ill and drug-addicted individuals are homeless. A residential and day treatment center would keep them off the street, thus providing more support and at the same time promote public safety. Having one centralized location for all of this would be cost effective.

With the constant rearrests of many of the mentally ill and drug-addicted offenders, it is really time to find a solution to the problem. The problem has always been lack of treatment while in jail. Treatment takes a long time. It is irresponsible and inhumane to keep returning mentally ill offenders to the community without a long-term treatment case plan. This puts the entire community continually at risk. The vandalism, theft, fire danger and violence has become economically and emotionally intolerable.

It would be encouraging if the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, along with law enforcement and Behavioral Health, worked together to design and implement such a program. Yes, it will cost money, but the savings in damage to the community (yes, the community is paying dearly), police time, incarceration costs at $200 per day per person, DA, public defender and court time will certainly offset some of the costs. A cost-benefit analysis is needed. Perhaps looking to San Francisco to see how the Behavioral Health Justice Center program is working there would be a good place to start.

Pauli Halstead lives in Nevada City.

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