Supervisors approve slew of policies offering alternatives to jail
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a series of policies to address the root causes of behavioral health issues, homelessness and other social concerns that often lead to crime.
As part of its "Safety Through Services" strategy, supervisors approved:
- expanding the Mobile Crisis Response Team and Crisis Alternatives, and evaluating the data in connection with these programs;
- expanding crisis stabilization units, which provide up to 24 hours of emergency treatment for psychiatric emergencies, and locating them with sobering services;
- meeting the immediate needs of those released from jail via a pilot program that offers food, clothing, phones and transportation;
- providing case management, care coordination and housing for those released from jail;
- adding housing-focused counselors in jails;
- launching employer and job-seeker outreach around the Fair Chance Act; and
- signing up eligible residents for benefits.
Tuesday's vote "is the culmination of nearly two years of research and community engagement after the board gave the green light for this research in 2021," according to a statement from Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, a main advocate of the policy change.
"Dangerous criminals should be in jail, homeless people should be in homes, and sick people should be in treatment," Lawson-Remer said. "This is about breaking the cycle between the streets and incarceration, and this approach will help us do a better job of getting people off the streets and keeping them off for good."
According to a related report issued by San Diego Association of Governments:
- about 9,000 people every year are booked into county jails on low- level offenses who would be better served with alternative interventions;
- it costs over $81,000 a year to incarcerate someone with a mental health illness, compared to $32,000 a year to provide housing and social services;
- jail is often used to deal with public health problems, poverty or substance use, which disproportionately affects people of color, LGBTQ residents or those experiencing homelessness;
- research shows that even two days in jail can result in more future contact with the criminal justice system; and
- San Diego County has experienced a 10-year average of 74.8 suicides per 100,000 individuals.
After hearing the presentation, board Chairwoman Nora Vargas said as the county attempts to redefine alternatives to the justice system, it's important for people to think outside the box.
Supervisor Jim Desmond said while he was happy to support justice reform and treatments, "public safety and accountability should be our primary concern."
During Tuesday's public comment period, many residents were in support of the county's efforts to improve conditions for certain low-level offenders.
Greg Anglea of Interfaith Community Services said official reports really quantify "what we have seen and experienced for many years."
Although most speakers were in support of the reforms, one man suggested that the county treat convicted criminals within the jail system.