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Mental health becomes key in corrections budget

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 10, 2014 at 4:40 pm •  Published: June 10, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Democrats in the Legislature want the state corrections budget to spend tens of millions of dollars more on mental health services as a way to improve treatment and increase rehabilitation options.

They are making their case as lawmakers have just days to craft a budget deal before Sunday's deadline and as the state and a handful of counties deal with lawsuits related to the treatment of mentally ill inmates in the state prison and local jail systems.

But it's far from certain that Democratic lawmakers get all they want in this week's budget negotiations.

Gov. Jerry Brown and county sheriffs, for example, want $500 million in bond money to expand jails so they can adequately house the thousands of new inmates that counties are receiving under the governor's three-year-old realignment law, which diverts lower-level offenders from state prisons.

Senate Democrats are seeking to broaden how that money can be used. They want to give county boards of supervisors the ability to spend it on mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities, transitional housing or other jail alternatives.

Their position on jail funding is supported by reform groups but is being criticized by the California State Sheriffs' Association. Republican lawmakers and the California State Association of Counties support Brown's proposal, while a plan by Democrats in the state Assembly gives sheriffs more flexibility in spending the money.

"Counties have a huge problem with jails that were constructed decades ago," said Aaron Maguire, a lobbyist for the sheriff's association.

While he said the alternative programs are worthwhile, the Senate proposal "dilutes the pot of money that really needs to go to counties that have those old and aged facilities."

Democrats in the Senate also are seeking $175 million for eight programs intended to help mentally ill offenders and the law enforcement officers and prison guards who deal with them. That's about $85 million more than is in Brown's budget plan.

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