Report Shows Rate of Mental Illness in California Jails is on the Rise

A report from California Health Policy Strategies indicates that the prevalence of mental illness in California jails is on the rise. The report analyzed data from 50 counties regarding mental health cases and the rate of prescriptions for psychotropic medications in jails between 2009 and 2019.

Rising Numbers

The data came from the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) Jail Profile Survey (JPS). The JPS has been distributed to jails since 2002 and is a tool used to collect data on local jails and jail systems. In the survey, counties are asked to report the number of inmates receiving medications for identified mental health issues and the number of open mental health cases. The survey is taken on a monthly basis.

The data analyzed from 2009-2019 indicated that the number of California statewide jail inmates with an active mental health case or a prescription for psychotropic medication increased significantly. In 2009, there was an average of approximately 15,500 open mental health cases reported by counties on a monthly basis. By 2019, this number jumped to about 22,000. This is a 42% increase in the number of open mental health cases in county jails.

In addition, the percentage of the jail population with an open mental health case rose from 19% in 2009 to 31% in 2019. In fact, the number of incarcerated individuals overall decreased, while the number of mentally ill inmates increased. The data regarding psychotropic medication indicated a similar trend.

Reasons for the Increases

The data in the report may reflect a trend of incarcerating individuals who suffer from mental illness. Depending on the county, there could be a number of factors that play a role. Some counties could have higher rates of homelessness or lack treatment resources in the community. In addition, policy changes under the Public Safety Realignment could mean that more individuals with mental illness are being kept in the jail system rather than sent to prison.

With regard to the increase in inmates with prescriptions for psychotropic medication, this could be a result of better rates of mental illness identification and treatment. It may not solely be the result of increased incarcerations of individuals with mental illness.

Whatever the reasons for the increase, the report has highlighted the need to keep accurate data on mental illness rates in jails and prisons. The number of mentally ill inmates will likely continue to increase over the years, and counties must be prepared to handle these numbers.

If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental illnesses. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.

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