Estimating the Size of the Los Angeles County Jail Mental Health Population Appropriate for Release into Community Services
Jan 7, 2020
On an average day in Los Angeles County jails in 2018, 30 percent of individuals were taking psychotropic medications or were housed in units for individuals with mental illness, according to 2019 data from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The county could potentially divert up to two-thirds of those individuals out of jails and into community-based treatment services, a RAND Corporation analysis has found.
Diversion programs can benefit individuals by connecting them with quality, patient-centered treatment, and can benefit the jail system by easing the burden of caring for those with a mental health disorder. According the Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR), ODR has diverted more than 4,474 individuals to supportive housing settings and programs for those who are incompetent to stand trial since 2015. Los Angeles County has also increased research and resources over the past few years to serve jailed individuals with a mental health disorder.
But a decade-long spike in the number of individuals with serious mental illness who are in the criminal justice system paired with a shortage of beds in mental health facilities have made it difficult to address the needs of those individuals who could benefit from community-based services. The county identified a need for more information about the share of the jail mental heath population that might be eligible for diversion. This information is a first step toward figuring out the types of programs, staff, and funding needed to treat eligible individuals in the community and the impact that diversion would have on the jails' mental health services.
This brief summarizes the findings of the 2020 RAND report, Estimating the Size of the Los Angeles County Jail Mental Health Population Appropriate for Release into Community Services.
RAND researchers found that an estimated 61 percent of the jail mental health population—3,368 of the 5,544 individuals—could be considered appropriate candidates for diversion, 7 percent (414 individuals) could be considered potentially appropriate, and 32 percent (1,762 individuals) could be considered not appropriate (see the below figure).
However, this estimate might be an upper bound; the actual number of diversions will likely be lower. ODR recommends candidates for diversion, but other parties have a say: The defense lawyer, prosecutor, and judge must all agree to divert an individual, and diversion is voluntary, so not every eligible candidate will be diverted. In addition, there is still the shortage of treatment beds, and some existing county diversion programs require individuals to have pleaded guilty or no contest in exchange for probation, which may not appeal to everyone who is eligible.
The study also had limitations that better data or more data would help resolve. For example, how many people would be eligible for existing diversion programs? What level of care would individuals need? And, what impact would this have on the annual jail mental health population?
To carry out this study, RAND researchers
Researchers made the following recommendations for ODR to consider as it determines the path forward: