Editorial Reply to: Banks Editorial - March 2015

Bank's column was right on the money. And we're talking about money.

This is not just a police problem. As Banks points out, it's our problem, the people of the city and county of Los Angeles. If we spent as much money on community-based treatment as we spend on the police who are trying to get mentally ill addicts to behave normally, we could solve this problem.

But we must also look at our policies. How did "Africa" the homeless man who was killed Sunday, get on skid row? He reportedly may have suffered from mental illness, but why was'nt he in community treatment?

If we don't demand better from out elected officials, this every-moment, every-day tragedy will never end.

Marsha Temple, Los Angeles

Editorial Reply to: County/old Jail Problem, Editorial - Sept. 10 2013

Unless they have committed a serious violation of the law, mentally ill people do not belong in jail. It is not a therapeutic environment.

Too often people with mental illnesss who are homeless are picked up for "quality-of-life crimes" such as jaywalking. They go to jail, they destabilize, they are released, the police see them, they look for small offenses, rearrest them, take them back to jail, and the cycle perpetuates itself.

This practice is expensive and inhumane. Diversion into community-based treatment is the only sensible answer.

Marsha Temple, Los Angeles

It's a Crime to House the Mentally Ill This Way

If you routinely hear voices, hallucinate, sink into suicidal depression or suffer inescapable torment, Los Angeles has a place for you - - The county jail.

Steve Lopez - July 17th 2013

On Monday, the jail held 3,200 inmates diagnosed with a mental illness and accused of a crime. Most have not been to trial, many have waited months for their day in court, and the majority have cycled through at least once before. There's no longer enough room to house them all in segregated areas, so 1,000 mentally ill men and 300 women are housed with the general population.

Sheriff Lee Baca has said for decades that he runs the nation's largest mental hospital, but we've heard it so often that the shock has worn off. We know there's something inexcusably wrong with the system something backward and inhumane. But we shrug and move on, and the failure of public policy persists, at great public expense, while Los Angeles County officials order up another round of studies.

On the seventh floor of the Twin Towers, some of the most severely ill men stood in the locked single cells of a dorm-style bloc Monday, staring into space, banging on walls or howling. On the fifth floor, cells were filled to capacity and bunks were squeezed into the common dining area to handle the overflow. Some of the bunks are two beds high, some three. Privacy and quiet do not exist for inmates or their jailhouse therapists.

If you're trying to figure out what makes for a desirable therapeutic environment, said Sara Hough, who runs the jail clinical program for the county Mental Health Department and takes pride in trying to deliver desperately needed care, "this ain't it."

County sheriff's Sgt. Julie Geary pointed out an inmate who thinks that he's Abraham Lincoln and that he's possessed by a spirit. Nearby was a man who's been in and out of jail so many times, Geary is on a first-name basis with him. "You're back," she recalled telling Herman. And she knows which inmates can be expected to complain that poisonous gas is being piped into their cells.

On the fifth floor, a 49-year-old inmate squatted and spoke to me through a small opening in a locked door. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as a young man, he said. I asked how many different times he's been in jail since then. "About 15," he guessed. And the total amount of time he's been locked up? "Sir, to be honest with you, about 27 years."

While I spoke to him, another middle-aged man kept gesturing through a window that he wanted to talk, too. "Sir," he said, "I'm just trying to get into a drug program." He rattled off a list of diagnoses he's received, including bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder. Like the 15-timer, he's been in jail so many times he could only guess at the number. "About 10," he said.

Clearly, locking these men up over and over again isn't working, and it isn't cheap. But it's what the system has been doing for years in Los Angeles County and in jails and prisons across the country.

Therapists know it. Judges know it, because they see the same offenders churn through their courtrooms, many of them for drug possession and minor offenses in which the underlying cause is often a mental illness. And jailers surely know it, though the problem is not of their making or of any other single agency's.

"We're on the same page here," sheriff's Cmdr. David Fender said Monday when I met with him and mental health officials at the jail. "The entire leadership" of the Sheriff's Department "believes we've got to do something about this."

No doubt, so what's the plan? The county Board of Supervisors is pushing ahead, after years of delay, with plans to update jail facilities in hopes of fending off possible federal intervention following myriad reports of inmate abuse and deplorable conditions. Earlier this year, the supes hired a consultant to make proposals for demolishing the dungeon-like Men's Central Jail, building a new facility in its place and updating other detention centers. At Tuesday's board meeting, five proposals were aired, including construction of a jail devoted entirely to inmates with medical and mental health problems.

But would that be a new direction, or the same failed strategy in a new and improved building? Even when inmates get counseling and meds in jail, the majority of them leave with no long-term recovery plan or supervision on the outside, so guess where they end up.

The costs of the proposals ranged from $1.32 billion to $1.62 billion, and no doubt some upgrades are needed. But several dozen demonstrators at the meeting called for no new jails, and many of them stepped to the mike to demand a greater investment in steering people out of detention.

One of the speakers, Marsha Temple, cited an earlier study recommending community treatment centers rather than incarceration for many of those with mental health problems. She points out that permanent supportive housing and treatment would offer a far better chance at recovery, and would cost a fraction of what it takes to throw someone into a jail cell.

"Why are we locking up people who are mentally ill?" Temple asked me rhetorically Tuesday afternoon, her tone suggesting the practice is nothing short of barbaric. And she said declining birth rates and crime rates make her fear that more jail space will lead to more warehousing of those who ought to be in treatment rather than in jail.

Temple runs the L.A. nonprofit Integrated Recovery Network, which contacts inmates before their release, then follows them back out with supportive services like housing assistance, job training and mental health counseling. But her group can handle only a fraction of the need. Temple has been strategizing with judges, attorneys and treatment providers to push for similar services at the time of arraignment, with the goal of avoiding incarceration altogether, particularly for nonviolent offenders.

That's already being done on a small scale, with the county's Homeless Alternative to Living on the Streets program. But 3,200 people with a mental illness are behind bars (17% of the jail population).

That's shameful, and once you've looked into their eyes, you're haunted by the conviction that many of them are serving time for the crime of being afflicted. If the supervisors have trouble finding the will to do right by such a vulnerable, stigmatized population, maybe they should take one more tour of the nation's largest mental hospital.


Turning a Revolving Door into a Gateway

Orange County might avoid another Kelly Thomas tragedy by adopting a program like Integrated Recovery Network, which tries to break the cycle of jail and living on the street.

Steve Lopez - Aug 28th 2011

James Coley can't save all his clients. He can't slay their demons or change the world they live in. But he goes to work every day and gives it a shot.

On a recent morning in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, his to-do list was growing fast, the day's challenges lined up bumper to bumper. The client he was supposed to meet was running late, and he needed to get over to County Jail to check on another client who had threatened to drink Clorox. Then there was a third client he was supposed to take from jail to a housing and treatment program in Pasadena. And he also had to deal with the call he'd just gotten about a fourth client who drank vodka for breakfast and was in trouble at a board-and-care facility.

I had hooked up with Coley because of something the father of Kelly Thomas said to me a few weeks ago. Ron Thomas had said that his 37-year-old son, who died violently in July after a run-in with Fullerton police, was in and out of treatment facilities after being diagnosed with schizophrenia 15 years earlier.

I hear that all the time in and out of treatment. Thousands of people who fit that description wander the streets of Southern California. But Marsha Temple, who runs the nonprofit Integrated Recovery Network, says it doesn't have to be that way. A few years ago, Temple, an attorney who once represented hospitals, zeroed in on what she calls the "revolving door between Twin Towers and skid row."

People would land in Los Angeles County Jail because of a crime committed due in large part to a mental illness, hang there for a while, then go back on the street, get into trouble again and land back in jail or prison. There was little chance of breaking the cycle because they were pretty much on their own, with no treatment plan and no one looking after them. "It was shameful," Temple said.

With public and private funding, her agency began connecting with clients while they were still in jail, steering them into therapy, medication and housing and then assigning caseworkers like Coley to check in with them regularly. Temple's staff now handles nearly 100 clients at a time. Since she began, she said, only 20% have gone back to jail a success rate three or four times greater than estimates for those who get no such monitoring. The cost works out to roughly $10,000 per client per year, which is far less than the cost of churning people through hospitals and the criminal justice system.

> See the full article in The Los Angeles Times

Copyright © 2011, The Los Angeles Times

Prison's Revolving Door

Recent studies that recidivism is often related to mental health and drug use.

Los Angeles Times Editorial February 5, 2013

One of the standard criticisms of programs to unburden California's overcrowded network of prisons and county jails is that crime will increase as more felons are released on parole and more lower-level offenders are put on probation instead of being sent to jail. The argument goes that inmates are criminals by definition and we can expect them to commit more crimes when they are freed. And if that's the case, we can expect arrest records to show that parolees and probationers make up a huge portion of the population of people arrested for new crimes.

A study commissioned by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and the chiefs of three other California police departments suggests otherwise. In a report released late last month, the Council for State Governments Justice Center showed that the vast majority of people arrested in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and Redlands during the study period 2008 through the middle of 2011 were on neither probation nor parole, nor had they ever been. Of those who were, most of the new crimes involved drugs, not violence. In fact, relatively few arrestees who were on parole or probation only 7% in Los Angeles were arrested for violent crimes.

Especially eye-opening was the very low arrest rate of former prison inmates released on "non-revocable parole," a program begun in 2010 to stop the return flow to prison of parolees who committed nonviolent, "technical" violations of parole conditions, such as failing a drug test or showing up in the wrong part of town.

The study period ended right before counties began taking more convicted felons, both in jails and in probation, under AB 109, broadly known as public safety realignment. A follow-up study is needed.

On Monday, in a separate study, the Vera Institute of Justice reported that a large proportion of county jail inmates from two study areas Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles preparing to reenter society have drug or mental health problems.

More research is needed, but the figures from both the Council for State Governments and the Vera Institute suggest that many people who wind up in jail or prison got into trouble at least in part because of clinical conditions, and that many of them come out with the same problems they had when they went in.

If public resources are to be spent effectively, California must cut its recidivism rate, and to do that, it must use data to slice through the posturing of those in politics and law enforcement who claim to "know," without facts or figures, what people, policies or laws to blame for crime. If drug and mental health problems play a large role in landing people behind bars, it stands to reason that focusing more on diagnosis and treatment could save taxpayers money, reduce the criminal burden on neighborhoods and, by the way, address some of the misery and hopelessness of those caught in the revolving jailhouse door.

Tackling Recidivism - They All Come Home

Effective re-entry programmes can keep ex-prisoners out of jail

The Economist - Apr 18th 2011

JEN KWONG NG was released in June after serving 20 years in a prison in upstate New York. Desperate for work, he reconnected with the old "friends" who had got him into trouble in the first place. He had just met them in the park when his phone rang. It was Harlem's Exodus Transitional Community offering him an internship. "I told my boyz", remembers Mr Ng, "I gotta go. I gotta go to work."

> See the full article in The Economist

Copyright © The Economist Newspaper Limited 2011. All rights reserved.

Los Angeles Times Editorial July 12, 2011

“The tragedy of the County's predicament is that the arrival of new state parolees ought to be an opportunity to focus on the reentry of these ex-prisoners into society. It should fall to churches, mosques and synagogues, to nonprofit organizations, to schools, but above all to county government to ensure that those leaving institutions and reentering their neighborhoods do so in a way that maximizes their chance to become productive and law-abiding citizens.

Even the parolees expected to come to Los Angeles County — those whose crimes were nonviolent, non-sexual and relatively low-level — are more likely than the state's population at large to be sick, addicted, mentally ill, poorly educated and unemployable. Given that California's state prison system has disinvested in prisoner care and rehabilitation, the parolees are unlikely to come home any better prepared to lead productive lives than when they went in. Indeed, the failure of the state's parole efforts is one of the best arguments for turning this responsibility over to local governments, which at least have a fighting chance.”

LA Times story about elderly homeless woman

LA Times story leads to housing for homeless family with help from the Integrated Recovery Network and City and County authorities.

A 97 year old woman and her two sons, had been living in a Chevy Suburban on the street in Venice. We helped them stay at a retirement home in Van Nuys.

> Read the LA Times initial story 10.16.09

> Read the LA Times followup story 10.20.09

> Watch the ABC TV local video

> Benefit event at the Laugh Factory 11.24.09
   - LA Times article
   - Laugh Factory benefit event page

James Coley is a caseworker for Integrated Recovery Network. With public and private funding, the agency connects with clients in jail and assigns a caseworker to help steer them into therapy, medication and housing. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Bessie Mae Berger, 97 (Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times)

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