Mar 22, 2010

Behavioral Health Court helps the mentally ill jail population

It is clear that Behavioral Health Court is a crucial component to changing the lives of those living with mental illness in San Francisco who have become involved in the criminal justice system.

Check out this article [excerpt below] in the San Francisco Chronicle today.
Full article

San Francisco chooses jail over treatment
By Fred J. Martin Jr.

An explosion of research shows mentally ill persons treated early often go on to full recovery, gain employment, respond to treatment and live productively. Yet in San Francisco, more mentally ill are in jail than in hospitals, despite a blunt conclusion by Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Johnson: "Treatment is more efficient and cheaper than incarceration."

Johnson represents some 100 to 120 clients before the Behavioral Health Court. Due to a severe reduction in beds, both public and private, for acute treatment, San Francisco is paying a huge price. Those not given treatment and care are spun out to the streets, often ending up in the criminal justice system. Many ultimately go to state prisons. They are the homeless who live and beg on our streets, consumers of street drugs and both victims and perpetrators of street crime. Thomas Jefferson, a client in a mental health program run by a partnership of San Francisco General Hospital and UC San Francisco, stabilized with medication. He told a Mental Health Board hearing last month that earlier treatment would have allowed him to function now at a higher level. He considered himself fortunate to have appeared before the Behavioral Health Court, as his schizophrenia and drug addiction were treated. Otherwise, he said, he likely would be in prison.

Annette Robinson, diagnosed as bipolar, praised Behavioral Health Court staff and caseworkers, adding: "When ... arrested ... I went to jail. I don't think anybody knew how to help me. My mind was totally gone." On medication, she said, the Behavioral Health Court staff "have shown me an unconditional care about how my life turns out. I do need help still. "They have allowed me to get to a place where I can do things on my own... start to go back to work. I am going to school now."

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