New Law Provides Opportunities for Mental Health Diversion
California’s Fiscal Year 2018-19 health budget trailer bill, AB 1810, included a significant change in state law to create new opportunities for justice system-involved individuals living with mental illness. The new law provides a pathway for individuals with behavioral health conditions who have been charged with an offense to enter an 18-month mental health program before any charges are filed. Upon successful completion of this program, the charges will be dropped.
Diversion programs like this one have become a key strategy for addressing high rates of incarceration among individuals living with behavioral health conditions throughout the United States. In an analysis by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 37 percent of prisoners and 44 percent of jail inmates had a prior diagnosis by a mental health professional. Successful implementation of this new program in California could create meaningful change for this population.
County behavioral health departments are working diligently with justice partners - including judges, district attorneys, sheriffs and public defenders – to establish local programs to implement AB 1810. The law provides significant local discretion and flexibility for county partners to develop a program that can meet local needs. Counties are exploring strategies for using step-down models, identifying the program target population, and tailoring care to each individual’s needs.
With the right supports and services, individuals experiencing serious mental illness can live in the community and receive appropriate treatment outside criminal justice settings. AB 1810’s mental health diversion is a step in the right direction to safely transition individuals who might otherwise be incarcerated into the community, where they can recover and thrive.
Stay tuned for a more in-depth study of AB 1810 in the near future.
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