SANTA CRUZ — A collaborative focused on public safety issues in the region has released its first in-depth study of local behavioral health challenges and strengths.
The Commission on Criminal Justice’s 2023 report, Santa Cruz County Court and Jail System Review and Analysis: Handling Behavioral Health Cases, establishes a comparative baseline for the local court and jail system’s response to behavioral health cases.
The study, which draws on input from courts, jails, county behavioral health departments, probation departments, district attorneys and public defender offices, is available online at santacruzcjc.org.
While the report concludes that the different agencies involved share a common concern and empathy for those experiencing behavioral health issues and agrees that incarceration is not the most effective response in most cases, it also identifies areas that need to be actively improved. field. One area of need includes the goal of maintaining continuity of care as people move in and out of different systems. Another person said the increased funding is both to maintain existing services and to expand in underserved areas, the report said.
“Insufficient resources are available to meet the MH needs of those served by system partners, both in custody and outside prison,” the report concluded. “Specifically, for those who do not meet professional mental health standards (i.e., lower There are gaps in services and support for people with high levels of mental health needs).”
The report also noted the need for “more integrated case management systems and improved data sharing across systems and partners.” Santa Cruz County also needs high-security alternatives to local jails and cases that specialize in crisis stabilization of behavioral health issues to effectively house, treat and rehabilitate those in need, the report said.
Court case statistics show that overall criminal filings dropped an average of 28% from 2020 to 2022 compared with 2018 and 2019 due to law enforcement and business shifts related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the report said. At the same time, the number of diversions provided for people who commit crimes due to mental disorders increased from 4 in 2018 to 108 in 2022.
field of struggle
Court systems face ever-changing legislative mandates and must deliver justice neutrally, balancing case law and the needs of each individual. Courts must also rely on partner agencies to provide assessment, treatment and support services and subsequent placement. In contrast to criminal proceedings, such court-directed services are not provided to parties in civil or family courts.
The prison system says there is a shortage of mental health services inside and outside prisons, as well as insufficient post-release housing options. Additionally, the jail is considered the largest treatment facility in the county, with approximately 40% of the population receiving some type of psychopharmacological treatment. Since July, all inmates in custody have received an initial mental health screening from contracted health provider Wellpath, followed by a more extensive assessment within 14 days, the report said. Mental health staff are on site 18 hours a day, primarily for crisis intervention.
The Behavioral Health System noted issues with overlapping or duplication of services and requirements across systems in the county. The report specifically points to conflicts with Wellpath over prescriptions and cross-access to client records.
The challenges faced by probation services have similarities to behavioral health, with the addition of a critical shortage of residential beds for people in custody and awaiting transfer. Other issues included clients being asked to attend services for which they were not eligible and a lack of culturally responsive services in the system, the report said.
Among other challenges, the Public Defender’s Office noted that “the demand is overwhelming and resources need to be allocated bit by bit: not enough is being done.”
District attorneys’ offices face a shortage of available resources, leading to widespread delays and challenges from state laws that limit the number of clients who may be classified as incompetent to stand trial. The office is faced with balancing “public safety and getting individuals back on track; ongoing risk assessment.”