Propagating Mental Illness in the California Jail System

Approximately 71% of jail inmates in California are pretrial detainees. Pretrial detention is supposed to be limited to individuals who pose a risk to public safety or are unlikely to return for their court date. About 17% of people entering the nation’s local jails for pretrial detention meet the criteria for serious mental illness. In many communities, people with mental illnesses remain in jail for considerably longer than those without mental illnesses, despite facing similar charges and posing no more of a flight risk or danger to society. Pretrial incarceration of the mentally ill results in a reduced chance of recovery and stability in the community and is a large cost on taxpayers. In some areas, pretrial inmates wait months for court-ordered mental health services, which can be detrimental to their recovery. As of 2015, Santa Clara County Jail reported having six full-time psychiatrists for the approximately 1,300 inmates with mental disabilities. There are about 139 beds for inmates with severe mental disabilities. What happens to the other 1,161 inmates in need of mental health treatment? What impact does pretrial incarceration have on their mental health? What can we do to save taxpayers money and avoid propagating mental illness in the criminal justice system? These are the questions I will be attempting to answer this semester in Criminal Law and Policy.

My name is Arielle Hostetler and I am a Bay Area native. At the University of California-Santa Cruz, I studied the intersection of psychology and law. There I learned that the justice system had the ability to create a more equal society because it came into contact with the people who needed the most help. But, instead, the justice system has failed on its promise to control crime, reduce suffering, and rehabilitate. Before law school I worked at the Santa Cruz Public Defender’s Office, the International Rescue Committee, the Peace Corps in China, and the Atlanta office of the American Civil Liberties Union. I am currently a 2L at Santa Clara University School of Law, where I hope to use my real-world experience and academic background to effect change in the criminal justice system.

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