The Importance of Mental Health Diversion

Why Jailing People with Mental Illness May Be Ineffective

Studies show that people suffering from mental health disorders may be more prone to commit particular crimes.  In an effort to address the underlying mental illness that a person may suffer from, California lawmakers have made mental health diversion a priority.  Mental health diversion programs under Penal Code 1001.36 allow for certain offenders to have their case dismissed with successful completion of the program.  Not all defendants are eligible for diversion and not all offenders will successfully complete the program.

An article published by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) finds that jailing people with mental illness may be ineffective punishment since they rarely receive the treatment they need.  In jail few people have access to “mental health services and support” resulting in a high recidivism amongst people with mental health disorders.  According to the article, “At least 83% of jail inmates with a mental illness did not have access to needed treatment.”

Mental Health Diversion Eligibility

Mental Health Diversion provides an alternative to jail and helps to prevent a person from getting a criminal record.  In order to be eligible for the program, the defense must show that the offender has a recent diagnosis from a qualified mental health expert.  The diagnosis must be to a mental disorder identified in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  The court must also be satisfied that the “defendant’s mental disorder was a significant factor in the commission of the charged offense.”

A participant in the mental health diversion program may be entitled to relief under the Penal Code including dismissal of the charges.  They must, however, successfully complete a treatment program and develop a long-term mental health care plan.