To detail the vicious cycle mentally ill jail and prison parolees routinely find themselves in, Laguna Beach-based Advocates for Cost-Effective Justice presents an enlightening documentary and speakers Saturday morning.
The group screens The Released, a documentary that was shown on the PBS program Frontline in 2009. It follows the struggles of jail and prison inmates, as well as their caretakers on the inside and outside.
It basically boils down to this: Since the Reagan-era release of the mentally ill from institutions, these people have tried to survive on the streets with varying degrees of success. It was the horrors of mental institutions that helped set many patients free, but one thing that can be said is at least such folks were properly medicated in those days (for the most part).
Most of those The Released follows know they must take their meds to quiet the voices in their heads and demons that drive them to destruction. But staying medicated is difficult for the poorest of these people, who aren't exactly viewed as ideal job candidates. So, when their meds run out or they get tired of the side effects, they often run afoul of the law.
"The largest mental institution in Orange County is our jail," Tiffany Lin of Advocates for Cost-Effective Justice informs the Weekly. "Orange County adult jails house an average of 7,000 prisoners on a daily basis. Approximately 70 percent have either a drug and/or alcohol related issue. Over 2100, a disproportionate number, have mental health diagnoses."
Again, at least jails and corrections facilities are staffed with professionals who can give those who need it psychiatric, psychological and pharmaceutical help. But as is shown in the film, which is set in Ohio, there often is no follow-up care on the outside, and the meds they get once paroled only last a couple weeks. With no jobs or programs to help them cope or earn livings so they can buy meds, guess where they wind up again?
Which begs the question, in these days of tight budgets: Wouldn't it cost society less to give them some sort of oversight so that, if nothing else, someone is making sure these folks take their meds?
In October 2013, members of local churches, women's clubs and nonprofits such as the American Association of University Women, Returning Home Foundation and the League of Women Voters joined forces to form the ad hoc group Advocates for Cost-Effective Justice.
"Our goal is to share accurate information about the cost and condition of our criminal justice system," Lin explains. "After looking at alternative approaches to our justice system, we believe it is time to make our voices heard."
Their voices, like those of others across the nation, will tell you this: Our criminal justice system is broken.
"It costs too much, not only in tax dollars but in human costs," Lin says. "And for what? We have created a system with the highest percentage of people who are incarcerated of any nation in the world. Instead of programs which rehabilitate those who are incarcerated, our jails and prisons have revolving doors."
Too many of those passing through those revolving doors are the mentally ill who, if properly treated, would not create such a burden to society. That's a message that will be no doubt batted about by Advocates for Cost-Effective Justice's guests speakers: Kim Pearson, RN, MHA, MBA, CCHP and deputy agency director of Correctional Health Services with the Orange County Health Care Agency, and Paul Shapiro, Collaborative Courts officer of the Orange County Collaborative Courts.
Saturday's program runs from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 429 Cypress Dr., Laguna Beach. It's open to the public and free to attend. If you need more information, call contact Tiffany Lin at 949.981.4887 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.