Public Safety

County Making ‘PROGRESS’ to Keep People with Mental Illness Out of Jail

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The County Board of Supervisors today adopted a new alternative custody program that will help inmates with a mental illness re-enter the community.

Programming for Reentry, Support and Stability, or PROGRESS, will address the mental health of sentenced offenders in an alternative custody setting. The County Probation Department, the Public Defender Office and the Health and Human Services Agency worked with the Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office to develop the strategy.

“We see it over and over and over again, unfortunately…individuals, that, because of their mental health and their drug use, cycle in and out of our jails,” said Supervisor Greg Cox, who spearheaded the new strategy. “Jails are not the best place to treat people with mental illness. We’ve developed an innovative pilot program to work with this population…With this pilot, we aim to make significant progress in assisting these individuals by giving them supportive services that they need before they return to the community.”

PROGRESS supports the Stepping Up Initiative, a national strategy involving more than 200 government agencies across the country. Stepping Up allows the County to collaborate with experts and national partners on best practices to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails.

The issue is clearly not unique to the region. In San Diego County, about a third of people in jail on any given day are being treated for a psychiatric issue, and many of them have a co-occurring substance abuse.

“This hopefully will fill a very important gap for us…the mental health issues we deal with in our jails,” said Sheriff Bill Gore.  “On any given day, about 2,000 inmates are on some type of psychotropic drug. The gap has been returning them to the community where they can get those wraparound services that they need to go back and be productive members of the community.”

PROGRESS aims to immediately reduce the number of people with mental illness in jail by offering an alternative custody setting focused entirely on community reentry. Participants in the program will be housed and receive services in a specialized residential setting. They will begin seeing their psychiatrist at neighborhood clinics and participating in other supportive community programs. They will be supervised by the Sheriff’s Department using GPS monitoring to ensure public safety and hold participants accountable for completing their sentence. The program is designed for non-violent, non sex offenders with low to moderate mental health issues.

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact