Nav: Home

Many in LA jails could be diverted into mental health treatment

January 07, 2020

More than 3,300 people in the mental health population of the Los Angeles County jail are appropriate candidates for diversion into programs where they would receive community-based clinical services rather than incarceration, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Based on a variety of clinical and legal factors, researchers estimated that about 61% of the individuals in the jail mental health population were appropriate candidates for diversion, 7% were potentially appropriate for diversion and 32% were not appropriate for diversion.

The study, which was based on a review of the jail population as of June 2019, has findings that are similar to preliminary estimates compiled earlier by L.A. County officials.

"Knowing how many people are appropriate for diversion is a first step toward understanding the types of programs, staff and funding that would be needed to treat those individuals in the community," said Stephanie Brooks Holliday, the study's lead author and a behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

The largest mental health facilities in the U.S. are now county jails, with an estimated 15% of men and 31% of women who are incarcerated in jails nationally having a serious and persistent mental disorder.

In Los Angeles County, 30% of the people incarcerated in the county jail on any given day during 2018 were in mental health housing units and/or prescribed psychotropic medications (5,111 of 17,024 individuals in the average daily inmate population).

The Office of Diversion and Reentry was created by the county in 2015 to develop alternative approaches to dealing with mental health challenges in the criminal justice system. While L.A. County officials have been pursuing alternatives for individuals with serious mental illness who are incarcerated, there is more demand for the existing services than there is capacity.

RAND was asked by L.A. County to estimate the size of the current population of individuals incarcerated in county jails who likely would be legally suitable and clinically eligible for community-based treatment programs. The study was not limited by the availability of existing services, and considered who could be diverted assuming no limits on the types of programs or number of treatment slots available.

RAND researchers developed a set of legal and clinical criteria that reflect the general factors that the Office of Diversion and Reentry currently uses to determine whether an individual may be put forward to the courts as a candidate for diversion.

The principles were applied to a sample of 500 people who are representative of the L.A. County jail mental health population. Researchers found that about 59% of men and 74% of women were determined to be appropriate candidates for diversion. Men make up 85% of the Los Angeles County jail mental health population.

"Diversion is stopping the cycle between jail and homelessness," said county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. "Just in the last three years, the Office of Diversion and Reentry has safely diverted over 4,400 people from the county jails to more appropriate settings where they can get treatment, instead of the costly alternative of serving additional time in jail and being released with no supports, too often ending up homeless. This is smart policy making. RAND's research underscores the need to double down on diversion to reach all those who could benefit."

In addition to increasing diversion programs, RAND researchers suggest that L.A. County improve its ability to collect information about individuals released into community-based programs, the ways different courts handle such cases and the outcomes of people placed into diversion programs.

The county also could look for ways to improve its early diversion efforts, which may be able to help people before they enter the county's criminal justice system. For example, some jurisdictions intervene at the point of arrest in an effort to decrease the criminalization of persons with mental illness.

"But even with increases in diversion, there will continue to be a large number of individuals with mental health needs who remain in the jails," Holliday said. "It is important that there are services in place to care for people who are incarcerated and provide continuing services once they are released back into the community."

The report, "Estimating the Size of the Divertible Jail Mental Health Population in Los Angeles County," is available at Other authors of the study are Nicholas M. Pace, Neil Gowensmith, Ira Packer, Daniel Murrie, Alicia Virani, Bing Han and Sarah B. Hunter.
The RAND Social and Economic Well-Being division seeks to actively improve the health, and social and economic well-being of populations and communities throughout the world.

RAND Corporation

Related Mental Health Articles:

COVID-19 outbreak and mental health
The use of online platforms to guide effective consumption of information, facilitate social support and continue mental health care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic is discussed in this Viewpoint.
COVID-19 may have consequences for mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be adversely affecting mental health among hospitalised patients, the healthcare professionals treating them and the general population.
Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.
Mental ill health 'substantial health concern' among police, finds international study
Mental health issues among police officers are a 'substantial health concern,' with around 1 in 4 potentially drinking at hazardous levels and around 1 in 7 meeting the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder and depression, finds a pooled data analysis of the available international evidence, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.
Examining health insurance nondiscrimination policies with mental health among gender minority individuals
A large private health insurance database was used to examine the association between between health insurance nondiscrimination policies and mental health outcomes for gender minority individuals.
Mental health care for adolescents
Researchers examined changes over time in the kinds of mental health problems for which adolescents in the United States received care and where they got that care in this survey study with findings that should be interpreted within the context of several limitations including self-reported information.
Heat takes its toll on mental health
Hot days increase the probability that an average adult in the US will report bad mental health, according to a study published March 25, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Mengyao Li of the University of Georgia, and colleagues.
Mental health of health care workers in china in hospitals with patients with COVID-19
This survey study of almost 1,300 health care workers in China at 34 hospitals equipped with fever clinics or wards for patients with COVID-19 reports on their mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and distress.
The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
Skills training opens 'DOORS' to digital mental health for patients with serious mental illness
Digital technologies, especially smartphone apps, have great promise for increasing access to care for patients with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia.
More Mental Health News and Mental Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Debbie Millman: Designing Our Lives
From prehistoric cave art to today's social media feeds, to design is to be human. This hour, designer Debbie Millman guides us through a world made and remade–and helps us design our own paths.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Insomnia Line
Coronasomnia is a not-so-surprising side-effect of the global pandemic. More and more of us are having trouble falling asleep. We wanted to find a way to get inside that nighttime world, to see why people are awake and what they are thinking about. So what'd Radiolab decide to do?  Open up the phone lines and talk to you. We created an insomnia hotline and on this week's experimental episode, we stayed up all night, taking hundreds of calls, spilling secrets, and at long last, watching the sunrise peek through.   This episode was produced by Lulu Miller with Rachael Cusick, Tracie Hunte, Tobin Low, Sarah Qari, Molly Webster, Pat Walters, Shima Oliaee, and Jonny Moens. Want more Radiolab in your life? Sign up for our newsletter! We share our latest favorites: articles, tv shows, funny Youtube videos, chocolate chip cookie recipes, and more. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at