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Given chance to avoid jail and criminal charges, mentally ill, addicted and homeless people in LA pass

Kevin Rector, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — A diversion program in Los Angeles designed to keep mentally ill, addicted or homeless adults out of jail and instead provide treatment and housing is having little success, according to statistics provided by police officials.

The problem? Little interest.

Nearly three-quarters of the 283 people deemed eligible for the Alternatives to Incarceration Diversion Program since it launched at the Los Angeles Police Department’s 77th Street jail last summer declined to participate in it, the LAPD figures show. Dozens of others have failed to comply with the program’s requirements.

Only 17 people have completed the program.

The unwillingness of so many adults to enter into a program that would spare them from criminal charges and potential jail time reflects a broader, ongoing struggle by officials and lawmakers to find effective solutions to the intertwined calamities of mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness carrying out across the county and state.

Under the program, when mentally ill, addicted or homeless people who don’t have a record of violent crimes are arrested for some types of nonviolent offenses — such as prostitution, simple drug possession, trespassing or petty theft — they are given the choice to enter the diversion program or face prosecution.

 

People who choose diversion are connected with one of several community-based organizations that help get them a range of services, including treatment and housing.

People arrested for misdemeanor crimes, which are prosecuted by the city attorney’s office and account for the vast majority of the offenses that make someone eligible for the diversion program, must remain in the diversion program for 90 days. Those arrested for felonies, which are handled by Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón’s office, must agree to remain in the program for 180 days.

Prosecutors and police track individuals’ progress and can still file criminal charges if someone fails to adhere to the program’s requirements.

LAPD Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher, who oversees diversion programs for the department, said that although the adult program has had some successes, he believes it has been “largely hampered” by policies put in place by court officials and Gascón.

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