RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors Tuesday is slated to approve a funding agreement with the California State Bar for $4.98 million to cover costs incurred by the Riverside County Office of the Public Defender for handling a program that seeks to treat mentally ill individuals who are on the streets, at risk of homelessness or likely to end up behind bars.
The board will consider the grant funding compact tied to the Community Assistance, Recovery & Empowerment — CARE — Act as part of its policy agenda Tuesday.
The act, signed into law as Senate Bill 1338 in September 2022, took effect Oct. 1 and established new protocols for placing those with behavioral health disorders in treatment regimens operated by the county.
The new CARE courts are currently designated in Riverside, Glenn, Orange, San Diego, San Francisco, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties. California’s remaining counties will be required to establish guidelines and protocols by December 2024.
“Riverside County’s commitment to behavioral health treatment is unwavering,” board Chairman Kevin Jeffries said recently. “While we continue to seek voluntary treatment at all times, this new `CARE Court’ tool may put us in a better position to help more people — those who just may need it the most.”
The $4.98 million provided via the state Bar’s Legal Services Trust Commission would go directly to funding positions in the Office of the Public Defender to render legal aid to CARE Court recipients, responding to “their stated interests” at every stage of proceedings.
Officials said the preference is for nonprofit legal clinics to step in and represent parties but, when those services aren’t available, deputy public defenders would have to be appointed.
“The Public Defender’s Office intends to hire one supervising deputy public defender, two deputy public defenders, four social services practitioners, four legal support assistants and two paralegals,” according to documents posted to the board’s agenda. “The practitioners will be out in the field, contacting respondents, which would require four vehicles and mobile office equipment.”
The court will operate similarly to other “diversion” programs already in place in Riverside and other counties, such as the Veterans Court, which permits individuals with military backgrounds to have their non-violent cases disposed outside of the standard criminal adjudication process.
The aim is to prevent mentally ill people from falling through the cracks of the social service system, ending up in a correctional facility or living on the streets without any help toward rehabilitation.
The CARE Court is designed for those “in the schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders,” according to agenda documents.
If they’re not in a voluntary treatment plan, patients can be processed by the court. The prospect must meet the following criteria, according to the legislation: “is unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision, and the person’s condition is substantially deteriorating; the person is in need of services in order to prevent a relapse or deterioration that would likely result in grave disability or serious harm to the person or others.”
Through civil proceedings, relatives or close friends of mentally ill residents, doctors who have interfaced with them, law enforcement officials and other first responders can initiate CARE Act cases by submitting referrals or petitions seeking to commence proceedings. The idea is to establish customized treatment plans, using all available public resources.
The Riverside University Health System-Department of Behavioral Health will serve as the lead agency responding to cases.
Judges can refer cases to the CARE Court if they determine a criminal defendant is “mentally incompetent.”
A “CARE agreement” would be necessary before any treatment plan could move forward, with progress hearings scheduled to determine whether the party is benefiting from treatment or cannot be helped. A treatment plan would specify psychiatric services, including “stabilization medications,” bridge or transitional housing available for the party, as well as other social safety net options.
Department 12 of the Riverside Historic Courthouse has been designated as the county CARE Court. Hearings will be held Monday to Friday in the afternoons.
The state Bar funding agreement runs to the end of fiscal year 2024-25.
The Legislature allocated $39.5 million in General Fund appropriations to support CARE Act applications in the current fiscal year. Ongoing funds will be generated, in part, by the imposition of fines on counties that don’t comply with provisions of the act.
The county’s CARE line is 800-499-3008. Additional information is available at http://www.ruhealth.org/behavioral-health/care-court.
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