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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Prison mental health panel lacks leadership

Washington ExaminerFrustration with a council that is supposed to advise the prison system, state agencies and law enforcement about mental health treatment has led the California Senate leader to call for changes in how it operates and how it is overseen.

The Council on Mentally Ill Offenders has been without an executive director for more than two years, and its volunteer members say they cannot meet the council's obligations on their own. As a result, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is proposing to switch oversight from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the Board of State and Community Corrections.

The council was created by law 13 years ago and is supposed to recommend cost-effective ways to keep the mentally ill from committing crimes. Advocates for proper treatment of the mentally ill say getting the council to function as intended is important not only for those who need help but also to California taxpayers because it should reduce the number of people being sent to state prisons and county jails.

Advocates say its expertise has never been needed more.

California is struggling to end two decades of federal court oversight of the care it provides mentally ill state prison inmates, while county sheriffs complain that they are poorly equipped to handle the mentally troubled offenders who are flowing to their jails under a 3-year-old criminal justice realignment law.

The 12-member council "offers California tremendous potential to significantly revise criminal justice policy, and creates better coordination between mental healthcare, supervision, and the communities where former-offenders are returned," Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in a written statement to The Associated Press. continue reading...

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