Inside LADA

February 7, 2019: Spotlight: Mental Health Division

Bolstering her efforts to help people living with mental illness in the criminal justice system, District Attorney Jackie Lacey created the Mental Health Division.

The division – the first of its kind in California and, possibly, the nation – brings together deputy district attorneys whose cases involve defendants who have been declared incompetent to stand trial or are seeking alternative sentences due to their mental illness.

“Our goal is to protect the public and to assist people in getting the mental health and other services they need to be productive members of our community,” District Attorney Lacey said during a Jan. 23 news conference. “We also want to make sure that jails and prisons are reserved for the most serious and violent offenders.”

The division builds on District Attorney Lacey’s innovative leadership in seeking a more just and effective criminal justice system for people living with mental illness.

The division's 12 deputy district attorneys will provide guidance to the office’s roughly 1,000 prosecutors on how to resolve cases involving those who commit offenses and whose untreated mental illness, historically, has resulted in longer incarceration terms and mental deterioration.

The Mental Health Division will assist deputy district attorneys facing questions about potential diversion cases and court motions made under a new pretrial mental health diversion law.

An important internal policy component of this effort is District Attorney Lacey’s directive that allows deputy district attorneys to consider a defendant’s mental health when deciding if they should participate in a diversion program.

“With this policy, I am encouraging my lawyers to make courageous decisions and do the right thing,” District Attorney Lacey said. “We must make informed decisions to ensure public safety and help another human being in crisis.”

Since taking office in 2012, District Attorney Lacey has undertaken several initiatives to address the needs of people with mental illness, including providing free mental health awareness training to more than 1,400 first responders from smaller police agencies.