San Diego County administration building
The historic San Diego County administration building. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

More than $3 million in funding was announced Tuesday for San Diego County’s first pre-trial mental health diversion program, designed to provide treatment options for people with untreated mental illnesses who might otherwise face jail and criminal charges.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors authorized a contract to accept up to $3,328,000 in grant funding from the Department of State Hospitals for the program, which will provide community-based treatment for individuals who meet the state’s criteria for mental health diversion.

State law allows criminal prosecution to be delayed for up to two years under certain circumstances, including if a defendant is found to suffer from a mental disorder that played a significant role in the crime. If granted diversion, that person may be referred to a mental health treatment program instead, after which criminal charges could be dismissed upon successful completion of the program.

People facing felony charges who have diagnoses of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and who are at risk of being ruled incompetent to stand trial are among those eligible.

Certain serious felonies, such as murder, voluntary manslaughter, and various sexual offenses, exclude defendants from diversion.

The funding would support treatment and housing for around 30 people at any given time, according to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. The program will include Assertive Community Treatment, wraparound services, case management, life skills, medication management, benefits assistance, peer support and community linkages, according to the DA’s Office.

“There needs to be a sea change in the way we address the needs of people living with mental illness in our community who find themselves involved with the criminal justice system,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “Today is another big step forward in a progressive new approach that is improving the way the criminal justice system handles individuals with serious mental illness, while still keeping our neighborhoods safe.”

— City News Service