Low-level offenders mental health MCRT
A member of San Diego County’s Mobile Crisis Response Team. Photo credit: County News Center

People accused of low-level, non-violent crimes soon will be redirected away from jails, after the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved the “Alternatives to Incarceration” plan.

The plan addresses those battling mental health issues or homelessness by providing risk services to them rather than sending them to jail.

The San Diego Association of Governments released a March report, “A Data-Driven Approach to Protecting Public Safety,” which looked at booking trends in county jails, in an attempt to answer questions about why jail populations dropped during the pandemic.

Sheriff Kelly Martinez said she appreciated the study’s consideration of public safety issues, in concert with the goal of reducing recidivism for those who commit low-level offenses.

“I am committed to keeping our communities safe and dedicated to working with regional and county partners on best practices, balancing incarceration, reentry programs, substance use and mental-health treatment in ways that make sense,” she said.

The board’s Vice-Chair Terra Lawson-Remer, said “dangerous criminals should be in jail, homeless people should be in homes and sick people should be in treatment.”

“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,” she added.

Actions approved by supervisors this week include:

  • Investing in existing mental health programs, including expanding the Mobile Crisis Response Team, Crisis Stabilization Units and sobering services.
  • Meeting the immediate needs of people leaving jail by launching a “Connections Points” pilot program to include support like food, clothing, phones and transportation.
  • Providing ongoing support with case management, care coordination and housing to meet the medium-term needs of those exiting detention.
  • Expanding housing options and providing transportation to ongoing care.
  • Adding housing-focused correctional counselors in jails.
  • Launching a re-entry-to-job market with an employer and applicant outreach program.
  • Connecting individuals to appropriate services.
  • Creating a collaborative and ongoing structure to monitor, evaluate and support alternatives to incarceration.