Archive for February, 2015

Orange County California Jails Turning into Mental Hospitals as the Number of Mentally Ill Inmates Increases

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

A Bureau of Justice Statistics special report estimates that more than half of all prisoners and jail inmates have or had some form of undiagnosed or diagnosed mental health problem. This is compounded by rampant substance abuse issues already facing many of these inmates.

California prisons and jails have become homes for people with mental illness who pose a threat to the facility, jail staffers, and other prisoners whom are ill-equipped to deal with these issues. California’s major prisons are at risk of facing a lawsuit if they deny offenders with mental illness proper treatment while incarcerated. California is currently trying to deal with more than 33,000 mentally ill inmates with mental hospitals in the state serving just 6,000 patients.

California’s treatment of mentally ill prisoners has been the subject of a number of lawsuits and class action litigation. A federal judge ruled in April of 2014 that the state of California violated inmates’ rights with mental health issues by subjecting them to excessive punishment.  Like many other states, the budget for treatment of the mentally ill inmates has been reduced in California prisons and jails, and with the limited resources, the corrections system is unable to provide adequate mental-health treatment for inmates.

This is how the system works; criminal offenders who have mental illness are arrested and sent to jail. If the offenders are shown to have signs of mental illness, they are referred to a psychiatric clinic where they are tested to determine their level of competency. Those who are found incompetent or with a mental condition are sent to the mental health court where the judge determines if the person is competent to stand trial. If the person can’t stand trial, he/she is taken to a mental health facility.

This process where you wait for someone to be transferred to a mental health facility can take several weeks, the offender still doesn’t receive any form of treatment, and the condition worsens. Something has to be done in order to ensure that the psychiatric evaluations are done fast so that we don’t have so many people with mental illness waiting to be moved out of jail.

It is unfortunate that prison officials are now being forced to take care of mentally ill convicts, even though they are not specifically trained to offer this kind of care and did not sign up for it. There have been reports showing that mentally ill inmates are undergoing unusual and cruel punishment in Orange County jails. This kind of treatment has been seen to cause severe psychosis and even suicide.

To address some of these issues, jails throughout California are liaising with volunteers and community base service providers to provide a number of beneficial programs to the mentally ill inmates. But a lot more can still be done. Jails can recruit additional mental health staff who are trained on how to safely assess, house, treat, and work with inmates who are mentally ill. The mental health staff also need to be trained to work in a custody environment.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Orange County provides information for the family when a mentally ill person is arrested:

  • If your relative is already at the Orange County Sheriff Department Central Jail Complex, he/she can expect to be interviewed by the Mental Health Evaluation Team. If the Medical Evaluation Team determines that there are mental health issues, your relative will be referred to Correctional Mental Health.
  • It is OK for your mentally ill family member to discuss his/her physical and mental condition, diagnosis, medications, etc. with Medical Evaluation Team members.
  • It is important that he/she feels safe and to speak openly with mental health screeners.

Family members often know what is best for their loved ones that have been arrested.  Getting them out on bail where they can receive the proper care and treatment of mental health professionals is often the best course of action.