Members of the Berkeley Mental Health Commission presented plans to divert mental health crisis responses away from Santa Rita Jail and John George Psychiatric Hospital at Wednesday’s Police Accountability Board meeting.
The discussion comes in the wake of an ongoing legal battle over the future of Santa Rita Jail. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, or DOJ, Alameda County “overutilizes” involuntary holds rather than connecting people with “community-based services.”
“We feel increasingly concerned about the ways in which Berkeley residents with mental health disabilities and illnesses are being processed through the criminal justice and mental health care systems,” the commission members wrote in a letter to the Police Accountability Board.
The commission letter pointed to the DOJ’s findings that allege Santa Rita Jail failed to provide mental health care to prisoners in serious need, including those at risk of suicide. It further alleges the jail’s use of restrictive housing violated both the Eighth Amendment and the 14th Amendment.
Alameda County, which is served by Santa Rita Jail, continues to have the highest rate of involuntary holds of adults in California, according to the DOJ report.
Margaret Fine, a member of the commission, spoke at the meeting about the need for streamlining mental health crises.
“What needs to happen is they need to be streamlined and they need to be framed in a way that, from the time a call comes in to 911 through to when the person hopefully gets services and not enforcement, that it goes along the line of diversion,” Fine said during the meeting.
The commission members proposed the city of Berkeley could “easily” increase its capacity for crisis stabilization and rewrite the protocols for police and mental health providers.
They said doing so would reduce the trauma faced by people in crisis situations.
“What we’re asking you to do is to somehow interrupt this flow and to no longer let our city be accessories to these crimes against people with mental health disabilities,” said commission member Andrea Pritchett at the meeting. “The (Berkeley Police Department) politics that relate to how people with mental health disabilities will be treated are outdated and don’t reflect what’s happening in our city currently.”