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'Care first, jails last' policy recommended for incarcerated people in Sacramento County

The Sacramento County Mental Health Board recently said the county should adopt a 'care first, jails last' policy focused on behavioral health services.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors accepted a list Tuesday of recommendations from the county mental health board on cutting down incarceration rates and improving the behavioral health of inmates.

Among the themes presented by the mental health board were:

  • Expanding community-based services that can prevent incarceration and stabilize people just getting out of incarceration
  • Shifting budget priorities and expanding supportive pathways out of the jail system, which can divert people from incarceration

Sacramento County's Mental Health Board began its review of behavioral health services provided to incarcerated people at Sacramento County jails after Jan. 22, 2022.

They spent months doing interviews and reviewing key documents before releasing six total recommendations.

According to data from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO), people with a mental health diagnosis who receive mental health services during incarceration make up 63% of the county jails' population.

The mental health board's first recommendation is for the county to adopt a 'care first, jails last' policy resolution for people with mental illness, substance use disorder, or other co-occurring disorders.

"(It) states that treatment should always be delivered in the most appropriate and least restrictive environment and level of care," wrote Mental Health Board Chair Corrine McIntosh Sako.

The other five recommendations include:

  1. Invest in building and running a 24-hour assessment and intervention service center for law enforcement and first responders to divert people with behavioral health and/or substance use needs from jail and emergency room visits.
  2. Increase the number of beds available to people in mental health diversion programs, while also adding 100 substance abuse disorder treatment beds specifically for Medi-Cal recipients.
  3. Prioritize and allocate sustainable funding toward a comprehensive behavioral health crisis continuum of care, while also addressing foundational elements that reduce the need for crisis services.
  4. Collaboration and commitment from all involved partners to divert people with mental illness from the criminal legal system.
  5. Behavioral Health Services staff should be financially supported to do frequent community-based outreach and recruitment efforts for its most in demand positions, and compensation packages for the positions most currently in demand should be increased in order to attract employees.

Click here to check out the full 20-page report.

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