Senate Democrats propose more spending on mentally ill criminals

UC Santa Barbara student Samantha Lepore writes on the Wall of Remembrance near the site where seven people were killed and 13 wounded in a shooting rampage in the college town of Isla Vista, Calif.

State Senate Democrats on Wednesday offered a $165-million package of proposals aimed at reducing the number of mentally ill people locked up in prisons and jails in California.

The proposals, offered just days after a disturbed student killed six people in Isla Vista, Calif., also would provide $12 million in additional funds to train law enforcement officers to recognize and handle people who may be a threat to themselves and others. Elliot Rodger, the young man who went on a rampage Friday, was interviewed in April by officers responding to parents’ concerns, but the officers did not judge him to be a public threat.

The proposals offered by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and others are based on a new study conducted by the Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project.

One proposal would provide $20 million to set up 20 additional Mental Health Courts that would divert mentally ill criminals, before they are sentenced, from prison to mental health facilities. The Democrats also proposed spending $50 million more to fund treatment programs aimed at preventing mentally ill criminals from returning to prison.


“The number of the mentally ill who are incarcerated has skyrocketed, to the point that nearly half of all California inmates have been treated for mental illness within the past year,” Steinberg said.

He said they tend to be given longer sentences than those without mental illness.

“By changing our policies to be ‘smart on crime’ instead of blindly being ‘tough on crime,’ we can break the misguided cycle of incarceration that carries such an enormous financial and human cost,” Steinberg said, vowing to press the funding proposals in the budget negotiations taking place during the next three weeks.