Healthy Living

May 22, 2014 10:00 PM by Keli Moore, KSBY

KSBY investigates: Jails become de facto housing for those with severe mental illness part 2

In California, more than a quarter of the state's prison population is mentally ill, the Associated Press reported. That's more than 33,000 inmates -- almost six times the amount of people who are being treated in state hospitals.

"We have no more places to put them, so they will be going back onto the streets, they will be revolving through hospitals and jails," said Carla Jacobs with the Treatment Advocacy Center.

For decades, public mental health facilities in California have been closed down or scaled back due to budget cuts in Sacramento, explained Jacobs.

"It is a vicious round robin cycle that has hurt not only our community, but people who have neuro-biological brain-based diseases such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder," said Jacobs.

According to a study by the Treatment Advocacy Center, in "44 states, including California, the largest institution housing those with severe psychiatric disease is now a prison or jail."

"In 2012, they had about 6,700 contacts in a year in the jail in relation to mental health issues. In 2013, it had risen to about 7,000 contacts. We are anticipating that this number will go up for 2014," said Tim Olivas, Under Sheriff for San Luis Obispo County.

Under Sheriff Olivas said San Luis Obispo County Jail, though it does have minimal services, is in no way a mental health hospital.

San Luis Obispo County has one psychiatric health facility, known as PHF, with only 16 beds on a temporary basis; patients usually stay for only 72 hours.

All this adds to the cycle.

For example, let's say this person with mental illness is arrested for murder and found not competent to stand trial. He is then sent to Atascadero State Hospital or ASH. But what if while at ASH he attacks one the employees? He is then sent back to San Luis Obispo County Jail, serves his time and gets bounced back to ASH.

Let's take another scenario. Let's say it's a lesser crime, like trespassing. Charges are filed and the person with a mental illness is sent to county jail, where he is then sent to the PHF for a psychiatric evaluation. At that point that's where they determine if he is competent to stand trial, and then he goes back to county jail until he goes before a judge. After that he could end up back in jail or back on the street.

As these cycles continue, with limited space in the PHF and in San Luis Obispo County Jail, what happens when there is not more room for someone in need of inpatient care?

"You either have a family member upset you're not holding them longer, you have a patient that's upset that you're keeping them, you have law enforcement upset that there's not enough of the facility. So I feel, I have great respect for law enforcement and I'm so grateful that they are there for serving our community and keeping us all safe. They help us regularly," said Judy Vick, division manager of Adult Mental Health Services. "The realities are we have a limited resource for inpatient facility in this county. The nearest facility would be two to two-and-a-half hours away from here."

So what can be done? In part three of our investigation, which airs Friday on Daybreak, we talk to lawmakers and mental health professionals about solutions.

Mental health professionals said we need more services for people who struggle with mental illness and turn to illegal drugs for help.

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