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CJS Digest

Prisons are housing mental health patients who’ve committed no crimes

States from New Hampshire to Colorado to Texas are dealing with the long-lasting and wide-ranging fallout from the 1980s-era moves to end the practice of warehousing people with mental illness in large state hospitals, known as deinstitutionalization. The goal of taking away federal support from these institutions was to create new smaller community centers to provide support. However, most of those centers have never materialized, forcing many people with mental illness to live without psychiatric care.

Since deinstitutionalization, the number of psychiatric beds has continued to fall. In 2016, an estimated 10.4 million American adults lived with a serious mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That same year, the number of state and county psychiatric beds hit 37,769, down from its peak of 559,000 beds in 1955, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center. That means emergency rooms are backed up with patients waiting for psychiatric beds that stay full because there is no community program to support the patients when they are discharged. “What we’ve done is made our jails and prisons the new mental health institutions,” says Moe Keller, director of advocacy at Mental Health Colorado and a former Colorado state legislator. “This is the 21st century in the United States of America. And this is the best we can do?”

How Misdemeanors Turn Innocent People Into Criminals

What Souter wrote was wrong then and remains so today. The misdemeanor criminal justice system makes up the vast majority of the nation’s criminal court dockets; it is wide-ranging, encompassing not only violent crimes like domestic violence, but also myriad offenses where there is little, if any, meaningful criminal activity — things like jaywalking and loitering. It has criminalized millions of people and jailed countless, even when the ultimate punishment for the crime carries no threat of jail time, a practice which the Supreme Court’s ruling endorsed.

California Correctional Wins HIMSS Davies Award

HIMSS has honored California Correctional Health Care Services with its 2018 Davies Community Award of Excellence, recognizing the provider organization’s efforts in using health IT to reduce hospitalizations for high-risk patients. Ten years ago, California Correctional Health Care Services was buried in paper. Tens of thousands of inches of healthcare records were spread out across the state at more than 30 institutions – as well as a more than 150,000 square foot warehouse archive. The patient population reached numbers of more than 125,000 individuals, with approximately 600 new arrivals every week and roughly 11,000 transfers monthly.

From A Cell To A Home: Ex-Inmates Find Stability With Innovative Program

Jones and Panzella are part of a first-of-its-kind program that’s providing vitally needed housing for inmates released from prison. The program also aims to break down misconceptions and fear surrounding the formerly incarcerated in a nation that imprisons more people than any other. The Homecoming Project in Alameda County, Calif., is matching prisoners being released after long sentences with homeowners and renters who want to take part in the experiment. The nonprofit behind the program pays the former inmates’ rent for six months and actively supports the partnership.

California law abolishing bail is put on hold until at least November 2020

California’s new law abolishing the requirement to post bail for release after arrest, scheduled to take effect in October, was put on hold Wednesday when bail bond companies qualified a referendum to put the issue before voters in November 2020. Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that random sampling of petitions submitted by sponsors of the ballot measure showed they had collected more than the 402,468 valid signatures they needed to make the ballot. Qualification of a referendum on a newly enacted law bars its enforcement until voters decide whether to approve it.

From the California Research Bureau

Social Determinants of Health Identify Communities at Risk for Mass Shooting Events. By Stephen Markowiak, et al. Journal of the American College of Surgeons, vol. 227, no. 4 (Oct. 2018) p. S164.

“A trauma research team has developed a profile of commonalities among communities where mass shootings have occurred. It includes a shortage of mental health professionals, a relative lack of socialization opportunities, higher rates of income inequality, and relatively high housing.… Ironically, study results showed that communities in states with the strictest gun laws had a 53% greater risk of mass shootings.… ‘Our data agrees that stricter gun laws are associated with less overall violent crimes,’ [study author Dr. Markowiak] added. ‘It’s just that these multiple-shooting events appear to be an exception to that rule.’… However, study researchers identified two types of gun laws that stood out as having a correlation with a lower incidence of multiple shootings: mandatory reporting of mental health records to the National Incident Criminal Background Check System and restrictions on open carry of firearms.” (Science Daily, Oct. 23, 2018).

1/14     The Latest from the CJS Digest

On crime and punishment, Gov. Jerry Brown leaves behind revised rules and a new focus on redemption

When Gov. Jerry Brown’s final term in office ends next week, he will leave behind a California criminal justice system infused with a new commitment to second chances, a shift away from an era where tens of thousands were imprisoned with little opportunity to turn their lives around.

After setbacks, Spokane County abandons custom criminal justice algorithm in favor of simpler tool

Spokane County is adopting a new computer algorithm designed to help judges decide which defendants should remain in jail, abandoning a more costly, custom-developed program that was hampered by technical and logistical problems. The Spokane Assessment for Evaluation of Risk, known as the SAFER tool, was touted as a cornerstone of local efforts to reduce jail overcrowding and eliminate racial disparities in the justice system.

How One County Became a Lab for California’s Prison Reform

When California lawmakers unveiled a plan in 2011 to reduce the number of inmates in state prison, officials in San Joaquin County thought the timing couldn’t have been worse.  There were already signs that a recent dip in crime might be coming to an end in this Central Valley county east of San Francisco.  Homicides were up by nearly 40 percent from the previous year. And in the midst of a financial crisis, the county and local cities were laying off police officers and prosecutors. Now the county would have to quickly absorb an influx of nearly 1,000 released prisoners.

Mental illness increasingly helps defendants avoid trial. But not always

More than two years after the murder of Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriff Dennis Wallace, a case against the accused shooter remains on hold because he was declared mentally incapable of standing trial. On Wednesday, the county’s latest accused cop killer — Paulo Virgen Mendoza, formerly identified as Gustavo Perez Arriaga — appeared headed down the same road. His attorney asked that Mendoza’s mental competence be evaluated before he enters a plea, effectively suspending prosecution for allegedly murdering Newman police Cpl. Ronil Singh on Dec. 26. Whether more of the general population is mentally ill, or claiming a mental defect is increasingly popular as a legal maneuver, is open to debate.


In the Pew Public Safety Performance Project (type in title)

Community Supervision Marked by Racial and Gender Disparities

African-Americans, men overrepresented in probation and parole population

Article December 6, 2018

By: Jake Horowitz & Connie Utada Topics: U.S. State Policy Projects: Public Safety Performance Project Tags: Public safety Read time: 1 min

Across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 4.5 million people are on probation or parole—twice the incarcerated population, including those in state and federal prisons and local jails. Virtually all demographic groups are represented in the community supervision population. However, people of color, particularly African-Americans, and men are disproportionately represented.

Many state lawmakers seeking to reduce the scale and boost the public safety value of community corrections systems are motivated to investigate the significant disparities in supervision populations, make needed improvements, and track performance for evidence of progress.

From the California Research Bureau

Association of Exposure to Police Violence With Prevalence of Mental Health Symptoms Among Urban Residents in the United States. By Jordan DeVylder, et al. JAMA. Nov. 21, 2018. 14 p.

“Exposure to police violence is linked with poor mental health outcomes.” Survey respondents who had been exposed to police violence (directly or indirectly) … “have higher levels of suicide ideation (suicidal thoughts or actions).” … The responses showed high rates of police violence directed at “marginalized groups” … and showed “negative mental health outcomes in the short term.” (Pacific Standard, Nov. 21, 2018).


California Research Bureau

Crime and Law Enforcement Study in the News

Probation and Parole Systems Marked by High Stakes, Missed Opportunities. By Jake Horowitz, et al. Pew Trusts. Sep. 2018. 24 p.
In the national conversation about criminal justice reform, prison population is most often what is discussed. This report is about the larger piece of the puzzle: community supervision. “Nationwide, 4.5 million people are on probation or parole—twice the incarcerated population.… [This means] 1 in 55 US adults (nearly 2%) are on probation or parole.” Similar to the prison population, “African Americans make up 30% of those on community supervision but just 13% of the population, and more than three-quarters of the 4.5 million Americans on probation or parole were convicted of nonviolent offenses.”

From the CJS Digest

San Francisco’s homicide count may sink to level not seen in 50 years

Violent crime dropped sharply this year in San Francisco, with killings in 2018 approaching the lowest number in more than 50 years to continue a decade-long trend of declining violence around the region.

San Francisco auto break-ins: UC study finds police foot patrols helped decrease larceny crimes

The San Francisco Police Department’s recent strategy to reassign dozens of officers to neighborhood foot beats has contributed to a significant decline in thefts and assaults, a new study released Wednesday found.

Is California’s DNA Retention a Violation of Privacy Rights?

EFF’s Jamie Williams says there are laws that mandate the expungement of DNA collected from arrestees that are never convicted, though the process is far from simple. “If judges are relying on that to uphold the constitutionality of the law, it’s really important we put some light onto what is actually happening,” she says.

The Great California Prison Experiment

Over the past decade, California has led the nation in reducing its prison population.  After the Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that conditions in the state’s overcrowded penitentiaries had “fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements,” lawmakers and voters enacted a series of measures to reduce sentences for many crimes and divert offenders to the authority of the counties.

From the outset, critics have warned that putting fewer offenders in prison would lead to a crime wave.  Now the first serious attempt is underway to roll back reforms, backed by law enforcement groups and already planted on the 2020 ballot.  Sponsors claim the prison downsizing has “threatened the public safety of Californians and their children from violent criminals.”

In fact, violent crime has increased in the years since 2011, when California embarked on its campaign-called “realignment,” beginning with Assembly Bill 109 – to make the state’s prisons more humane.


National Institute of Justice: Office of Justice Programs

Using Officer-Driven Research to Meet Policing Challenges

By Lt. Jason Potts, Vallejo Police Department

The challenges of implementing evidence-based policing are immense. Policing is a career in which relationship building and sound emotional intelligence are critical to success — but these elements are not necessarily scientifically based.

Policing is also highly nuanced and varies by agency based on the demographics it serves, its internal culture, and criminogenic issues particular to the agency’s location. The United States has 18,000 police departments, and many of them have fewer than 10 officers as well as significant budgetary and resource limitations. Given the variety in size, culture, and demographics among agencies, many law enforcement practices are based on traditions, experiences, and instincts that are indoctrinated through police academy and field training programs — these traditions are not typically based on data or research. This indoctrination is problematic, not only for its lack of empirical evidence but also because training may occur in unorganized, chaotic environments, with little standardization across the United States. A significant challenge in bringing research into the ranks of policing is addressing the anecdotal tradition of policing practices while still recognizing the significance of officer discretion.

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