Politics & Government

Senate Dems push for spending on mentally ill criminals

As budget negotiations reach their final weeks in the state Capitol, state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg is pressing for more spending to treat mental illness among inmates and people being released from prison, arguing that the proposals will reduce prison crowding and promote public safety.

The proposals by Senate Democrats to spend $132 million on reducing recidivism among mentally ill offenders are based on suggestions by professors at Stanford Law School, who studied the proliferation of mental illness within California’s prison population. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed $91 million in spending.

The Senate Democrats’ package comes as lawmakers respond to Friday’s rampage near UC Santa Barbara in which a disturbed student killed six people and injured 13 in a spree of stabbing and shooting.

“These proposals finalized earlier this month are now cast under a different light than any of us had originally planned,” Steinberg said during a news conference Wednesday. “It’s a cruel and of course sad coincidence that the significance of one proposal – to improve training among front line law enforcement to recognize the warning signs of mental illness – was illustrated by a gun rampage in Santa Barbara County.”

The proposals from Senate Democrats include:

• $12 million to train law enforcement officers and $24 million to train prison employees in dealing with people who are mentally ill

• $25 million to expand re-entry programs for mentally ill offenders

• $20 million to help parolees by providing case managers to make sure they get treatment for mental health issues and substance abuse

• $20 million to expand so-called mental health courts that manage offenders who are mentally ill or addicted to drugs

• $50 million to re-establish a grant program for counties offering substance abuse treatment, job training or other programs to help mentally ill offenders after they’re released from prison.