Alameda Co. looks to reduce number of mentally ill sent to jail

Alameda County leaders are struggling with how to improve services for the mentally ill, especially those who commit crimes. Many of the mentally ill often end up behind bars. The county is now considering other solutions, it hopes will cost less and offer better treatment. 

Many people with mental health problems end up in Santa Rita Jail instead of getting the health care they need. 

That was the opinion of those who spoke today at an Alameda County Supervisors committee meeting on mental health and public safety. 

"Jail is not to be the warehouse for the mentally ill in our community," said Brian Bloom, who serves on the Mental Health Task Force. 

"Instead of arresting them and putting them in jail to divert them and not bring them to jail in the first place, but to bring them to some kind of crisis stabilization center," Bloom said. 

He says many of those who are mentally ill, end up released from jail with nowhere to go and often end up on the streets, adding to the growing problem of homeless encampments in Oakland. 

Some argue that the $54 million the county received from the state to expand Santa Rita would have been better spent on funding community-based programs.

"It's hard to say whether or not it is going to increase the level of care inside the jail and we know if we prevent it, it will be less money for our county and better for the community," said Tash Nguyen-De -Carcerate of Alameda County. 

The Alameda County Sheriff's Department says it needed the extra space for treatment programs and administrative space. 

John Knowles, who runs a non-profit mental health services program, says having more satellite treatment centers would be a better alternative for police who often take mentally ill people to Santa Rita because there is no other place to take them.

"Delusional thinking, hearing voices...that causes them to commit crimes while they are not really in their right mind. The problem with that is there are not enough solutions.

The advocates hope that by next year, the county allocates more money for community mental health programs and reduce the number sent to jai.