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Santa Barbara County Pursuing Grant to Divert Criminals with Mental Illness to Alternative Programs

Funds from Prop. 47 reclassifications would pay for pilot program to try to reduce incarceration for high-risk populations

Planning is underway for a Proposition 47-funded program in Santa Barbara County, and mental health officials are poised to finalize their grant proposal by the looming deadline.

The county is going after a $3 million grant — distributed over 38 months — utilized by savings garnered by Prop. 47, a voter-approved 2014 law that reclassifies a wide range of felonies as misdemeanors.

Adopted with 59 percent of the vote, Prop. 47 calls for handling offenses such as forgery, fraud, shoplifting, petty theft and possession of small amounts of drugs as misdemeanors instead of felonies. The goal was to reduce jail populations.

One of the proposition’s promises was that statewide savings from the new approach would help support programs and prevention efforts to keep people out from behind bars.

Exactly who will be served by the Santa Barbara County program and the funding breakdown were among the questions raised during a Thursday meeting, which welcomed feedback from mental health officials and the public.

The county is proposing a pilot program that aims to reduce criminal justice system involvement by diverting individuals with severe mental illness or substance abuse disorders to community-based services as an alternative to jail, according to a document provided by county officials.

The Post-Arrest Diversion and Support Program would serve a capacity of 40 individuals per year on the South Coast, and 14 adults would receive housing.

“That (number) may sound low, but the intent is to provide intensive out-patient services,” said Suzanne Grimmesey, chief strategy officer for the county Department of Behavioral Wellness. “We need this in our community and feel confident about what we are developing.”

If funded, the pilot program would begin in June and end in August 2020.

If granted, the county will collaborate with the California Board of State and Community Corrections to develop a program to reduce incarceration for high-risk populations that can be duplicated in regions of the county and statewide.

During the one-hour meeting at the county Administration Building in downtown Santa Barbara, some attendees wondered about the next steps after the grant money runs out.

Addressing the underlying causes of recidivism was also noted.

“This (the Post-Arrest Diversion and Support Program) is an acute team,” one speaker said. “It doesn’t have long-term housing and stabilization components of sobriety and housing, which are two major factors to the lack of recidivism.”

The County Jail and medium security facility’s average daily population is about 1,000 inmates, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said Sunday.

“One goal is to find ways to drive down the average daily population in the jail — particularly those people who are suffering from mental illness,” Undersheriff Barney Melekian said at the meeting.

With the continued community input, county staff hopes to finalize their grant application, which is due Feb. 21.

The more than 20 attendees were encouraged to join a Prop. 47 local advisory committee.

Deputy County Executive Officer Dennis Bozanich noted that Thursday’s meeting is just the start of a discussion.

“This is not the end of the conversation,” he said. “The ongoing dialogue is extremely valuable.”

Another meeting examining the county’s proposed program and the role of a local advisory committee will be held in the North County at 4 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Board of Supervisors Gallery, 511 E. Lakeside Parkway in Santa Maria.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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