Thursday, April 24, 2008
Public Defender’s Office Honored for Work on Behalf of Mentally Ill
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office has received a “best practices” award from the California Council on Mentally Ill Offenders for its Client Assessment Recommendation Evaluation Project, known as CARE.
The CARE program is designed to assist minors entering the juvenile justice system with mental health and special education needs. Special Operations Bureau Chief Michael Concha explained that many parents lack the resources or ability to help their children, who may have chronic undiagnosed educational deficits or psychological issues which contribute to their delinquent behavior.
“We need to find out what causes a child to act this way, and address those causes,” he told the MetNews. Through the CARE program, he said, an “unfortunate beginning can have a good ending.”
The program employs a team of psychiatric social workers, mental health professions, resource attorneys and other clinicians in order to assess and identify psycho-social and educational needs of children the Public Defender’s Office represents in order to make recommendations to the juvenile court for alternate treatment plans.
Public Defender Michael Judge said in a release that during the past four-and-a-half years, the courts have adopted 83 percent of the CARE program’s disposition recommendations. Also according to a the release, 76 percent of the youth whose cases were opened and closed between February 2004 and December 2005 had no new charges filed against them in the subsequent year.
Concha said “it’s been very rewarding to us to see the success rates…once the right combination of treatment and programs are given to [the children.]”
The program served approximately 11,000 children from its establishment in 1999 through the end of 2007. Concha said that additional personnel have been appointed to the program, and opined that it currently serves about 1,500 children per year.
The 90-day program is operated throughout the county in all 10 Public Defender juvenile branch offices, and typically serves about 400 youth at a time.
The California Council on Mentally Ill Offenders was established by former Gov. Gray Davis in 2001 in order to address the long-term needs of individuals with mental disorders who are likely to become offenders, or have a history of criminal offenses and is affiliated with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Other “best practices” honorees included: the San Francisco Superior Court’s Behavioral Health Court, a pre-plea felony court program; the Orange County Superior Court’s Co-Occurring Disorders Court, a post-adjudication alternative for mentally ill felony drug offenders; and the Santa Clara County Superior Court’s Mental Health Treatment Court and Court for the Individualized Treatment of Adolescents.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company