Citing past difficulties with jail space and medical care, several county officials and community members alike met in the Faulkner Gallery of the Santa Barbara Public Library last night to discuss treatment for county inmates who suffer from both mental illnesses and substance abuse.
The town hall meeting, which began at 7 p.m., was sponsored by Families Advocating for Compassionate Treatment and moderated by Santa Barbara City College Superintendent John Romo. Panelists discussing treatments for these dually diagnosed inmates included SB Police Chief Cam Sanchez, Judge Rogelio Flores and SB County Sheriff Bill Brown.
According to a F.A.C.T. press release, the matter has become a growing concern for both parents and county officials, as many of the jails provide inadequate services for the dually diagnosed. During the town hall meeting, panelists discussed solutions to the growing number of mentally ill and substance-addicted inmates who consistently return to prison as a result of poor rehabilitation or breaking of probation.
County Public Defender Gregory Paraskou said the Santa Barbara prison system currently has only 16 beds dedicated to dually diagnosed inmates. He also said the county could not provide enough jail space for these specific inmates.
“One of the biggest problems we have in this county is bed space,” Paraskou said.
Brown, who recently advocated an increase in jail beds for county prisons, said that between 15 and 18 percent of those incarcerated in SB jails take psychotropic medication. He said the dually diagnosed inmates provide a costly burden to the county.
“Just the cost of medication alone is astronomical,” Brown said.
Representatives from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill also spoke at the meeting, and claimed that these inmates have unique problems and require additional treatment. According to a NAMI press release, substance abusers with mental illnesses are considered especially hard to treat because health services usually cannot support several ailments all at once, whereas most patients are often diagnosed with only one illness.
F.A.C.T. member Ann Eldridge said each part of the county needs to assess its needs differently, claiming that North County, for example, had the highest amount of inmates with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems.
Other solutions discussed during the town hall meeting included supplying more residential housing, expanding the number of involuntary beds in county jails and increasing the availability of mental health care such as access to prescription drugs and doctors.
F.A.C.T. is a Santa Barbara support group for families who have dually diagnosed friends or relatives. The organization also advocates for alternative treatment programs regarding mentally ill and substance-addicted inmates, and meets twice a month at the Unitarian Society, which is located in downtown Santa Barbara at 1535 State St.