Skimping on Mental Health Funding Has Consequences

Two decisions last week — the Supreme Court’s ruling that California must reduce its prison population and the state Legislature’s move to beef up security at state mental hospitals — are related to a larger, longstanding problem of chronic underfunding for mental health care in California, according to veterans of the system. Mental health experts argue that part of the overcrowding problem in California’s prisons and security problems at mental hospitals are a result of too little attention and money spent on mental health care. “That’s absolutely the case and it’s nothing new, unfortunately,” said Larry Poaster, chair of the state Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission. “Because of the inadequacy of mental health funding over the years, there’s little doubt that many people who end up in our criminal justice system — either in prisons or in mental hospitals — could have been steered in other directions with early intervention and treatment,” said Poaster, who worked 30 years at the county level of the state’s mental health system, most recently as director of the Stanislaus County Mental Health Department.

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