Magazine article Corrections Forum

Ca's New Propositions Should Impact Mental Health/three Strikes Sentencing

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Ca's New Propositions Should Impact Mental Health/three Strikes Sentencing

Article excerpt

In the 2014 mid-term election, voters in California passed two propositions that could have a significant impact on the state's criminal justice and public health systems. Proposition 47 requires misdemeanor rather than felony sentences for certain drug and property crimes that will then shift the money spent on incarceration to fund crime prevention, trauma recovery services, and substance abuse and mental health services. The hope, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón told the San Francisco Chronicle, is to prioritize violent crime and not lock up people who "basically just need medical help." Proposition 36 will make changes to California's Three Strikes law including ruling that a life sentence will only be imposed if a crime is "serious or violent."

A 2010 Treatment Advocacy Center study found that there are more mentally ill people incarcerated than there are in hospitals. In North Dakota, the numbers were found to be about even. In Arizona and Nevada, though, there were 10 times as many mentally ill people in jails and prisons than there were in hospitals. Correctional facilities have become the de facto mental health hospitals, and experts will be watching California, a state with a rep-utation as being a trendsetter, and asking if the state might serve as a model for community mental health.

In 1997, Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren pioneered the nation's first mental health court in Broward County, Fla., to respond to the volume of mentally ill people who had been arrested for low-level crimes. She was selected because she brought with her a specialty in disability rights law and is "dedicated to the decriminalization of persons with mental illness from a human rights orientation." The Court, which uses a therapeutic approach, has been a profound success and since 1997 has diverted more than 16,000 individuals from the criminal justice system and into community services. In 2000, Congress passed a bill to fund mental health courts using the Broward County Court as a model. In 2003, Human Rights Watch issued a special report called III Equipped, which documented abuse and neglect in America's Supermax prisons. The Broward County model was recommended as a preventative method. …

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