About 18% of Los Angeles County Jail inmates could be diverted to mental health treatment programs, according to a study a local think tank released Tuesday.
One in three inmates in the county jail have serious mental illnesses, or about 5,100 of the 17,000 individuals in the average daily inmate population. The RAND Corporation study found that 61% of those 5,100 individuals are appropriate candidates for community-based treatment programs and an additional 7% were potentially appropriate.
The study authors evaluated a sample of 500 people who are representative of the mentally ill population in county jail, determining that about 59% of men and 74% of women could be diverted to community treatment programs. Men make up 85% of the county jail mental health population.
Lead study author Stephanie Brooks Holliday said the study assessed the population based on the severity of their mental illnesses and the nature of their charges and past convictions. The findings align with estimates previously compiled by county officials.
“We worked closely with the Office of Diversion and Reentry to understand the types of factors that legal stakeholders involved in diversion decisions use,” Holliday said.
The county created ODR in 2015 to develop alternative approaches to mental health challenges in the criminal justice system. The office has since launched the Housing Court program, which provides mentally ill incarcerated individuals with permanent supportive housing, but demand for the program and other services far exceeds their capacity.
ODR officials said community-based programs like Housing Court are about seven times less expensive than incarceration and reduce recidivism. Such programs cost about $70 daily per individual, while incarceration costs $600. Just 20% of the roughly 4,500 individuals who have completed ODR programs thus far have returned to jail, officials said at a press conference Tuesday.
County supervisors said Tuesday that they hope to use the study to expand mental health programs. Additionally, Holliday said the findings will help further the national movement to divert mentally ill incarcerated individuals into treatment programs. An estimated 15% of men and 31% of women incarcerated in jails nationally have a serious mental disorder, officials said.
“L.A. is such a big and diverse metropolitan area, so knowing this type of diversion is possible in a jurisdiction like L.A. is meaningful not just locally, but nationally,” she said.
Holliday said RAND and the county will need to evaluate the different treatment needs of incarcerated individuals who could be diverted to community programs and how those needs fit with the capacity of programs already in place. The study authors also recommend that the county collect more information on the outcomes of people placed into diversion programs.
“That deep dive allows us to know what investments need to be made to bridge the gap,” she said.
The report, “Estimating the Size of the Divertible Jail Mental Health Population in Los Angeles County,” is available at www.rand.org. Other authors of the study are Nicholas M. Pace, Neil Gowensmith, Ira Packer, Daniel Murrie, Alicia Virani, Bing Han and Sarah B. Hunter.