CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan presents an award to the L.A. District Attorney's office. Accepting on DA Lacey's behalf was Tracey Whitney, Deputy District Attorney.

CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan presents an award to the L.A. District Attorney’s office. Accepting on DA Lacey’s behalf was Tracey Whitney, Deputy District Attorney.

By Connor Jang, Student Assistant
Council on Mentally Ill Offenders

The Council on Mentally Ill Offenders (COMIO) has presented its Best Practices Award to Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, her office and the Mental Health Advisory Board.  The award recognized Los Angeles County’s “Blueprint for Change,” a collaborative plan to coordinate efforts around the county to divert those with mental illness and substance use disorders from the Justice System.

Secretary Scott Kernan, COMIO’s chairperson, presented the award on July 20 at Los Angeles County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry, an office created by the county’s Board of Supervisors.

“The Blueprint for Change has achieved measurable success helping those living with mental illness, thanks to the dedication of Los Angeles County staff and effective collaboration with other agencies,” said Secretary Kernan.

COMIO strives to end the criminalization of individuals with mental illnesses by supporting proven strategies that promote early intervention, access to effective treatments, a planned re-entry and the preservation of public safety. The 12-member council, comprising mental health and criminal justice experts from around the state, voted in March 2016 to honor the exemplary efforts of the Blueprint for Change.

The Blueprint aims to “intercept” incarceration for people with mental illness, with strategies ranging from crisis response to community reentry. The Blueprint has worked, in large part, by coordinating systems of diversion between government agencies and nonprofits, according to officials.

The plan includes more substantial training for first responders to address mental health crises and the expansion of co-deployed law enforcement teams, which comprise law enforcement personnel and mental health professionals. The Blueprint also explores alternatives to jail time, including treatment-based housing.

“The Best Practice Award recognizes the Blueprint for Change as a catalyst in building and sustaining a comprehensive system of diversion in Los Angeles County,” said COMIO executive officer Stephanie Welch. “We want to highlight their accomplishments but more importantly learn from them so we can share lessons with others who are doing similar work.”

Past recipients of the award include the San Francisco Superior Court’s Behavioral Health Court, Humboldt County’s New Horizons Program and the Orange County Combat Veterans Court.