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The New Steps For Keeping LA's Mentally Ill Jail Inmates Off The Street When They're Released

Tents occupied by homeless people line the street in downtown Los Angeles. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
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By Paul Glickman with Alyssa Jeong Perry

The Los Angeles County jail system can be thought of as one of the biggest psychiatric facilities in the country -- fully one out of three inmates has mental health issues.

All too often, when those inmates are released they end up on the streets with no hope for turning their situation around, which means they will very likely end up in jail again, starting the cycle over again.

Now the county has agreed to take several steps to try to stop that revolving door. On Thursday it reached a settlement with a group of former inmates who had sued.

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Here are the steps the county now promises to take:

  • Work to connect inmates with services before release. Once someone with mental health problems is incarcerated, jail staff will start working with community service providers to develop a plan to provide assistance after the inmate is released.
  • Arrange treatment and meds. When an inmate is released he will have a mental health appointment scheduled and a plan for getting there. He will also be given a two-week supply of his medications.
  • Provide help getting other services. Jail staff will help inmates get California IDs, apply for Social Security benefits or restart suspended benefits, reunite with family, find housing and get set up with community mental health and other service providers.

Getting all of this done won't be easy, given that an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 inmates with mental health issues leave jail each month.
One problem is that most local governments "don't have enough social services or mental health treatment available for all those who need it," said Dr. Timothy Belavich, director of mental health for the jails.

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