Meeting the Needs of the Mental Health Population in the LA County Jail System


Stephanie Brooks Holliday, Behavioral Scientist

This project was estimating the size of the jail mental health population in the Los Angeles County jail system that might be appropriate for diversion to community-based treatment rather than remaining and receiving treatment services while incarcerated. One of the reasons why I really wanted to pursue this project is I'm a clinical forensic psychologist by training. A lot of my work has focused on identifying alternatives to incarceration and better meeting the needs of people who have mental illness, who are involved in the criminal justice setting.

The jail system in Los Angeles County actually is by default the largest mental health facility in the country. There's just an incredibly large mental health population currently incarcerated in the jail. And so there's also a sense that if Los Angeles County can figure out how to divert the sheer size of population that we found to be appropriate for diversion, then other jurisdictions, other cities and counties can figure out how to do so as well.

I think one of the bigger-picture questions that this study raises relates to the really stark inequities that we see and the demographic composition of the Los Angeles County jail system. The proportion of Black and African-American individuals who are incarcerated in the jail system is just hugely larger than the proportion that we see in the general community. And actually, the proportion is even higher in the jail mental health population.

And what we found with the study is that there are no racial or ethnic differences in the likelihood that an individual is going to be an appropriate candidate for diversion. So what that means is that, at the very least, diversion should not be creating more inequities. And there could actually be an opportunity to use a diversion program to start to address some of those inequities in the jail mental health population. And so I think that's going to be a trend and an opportunity that will be really important to monitor into the future.

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