Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Council on Mentally Ill Offenders looks at challenges, successes of 2016

The Council on Mentally Ill Offenders, or COMIO, released its latest annual report in December 2016. Read the full report here:
The incarceration of individuals with behavioral health problems is a national, state and local crisis. Incarceration due to untreated mental illness illustrates how systems and communities can fail those most in need. Prisons and jails have become de facto mental health treatment centers and police have become de facto mental health crisis first responders.
CDCR has seen the population with mental-health needs, particularly serious ones, expand significantly. In 2006, the mental health population, as a percent of the total in-custody population, was just shy of 19 percent. As of July 2016, that number rose to almost 30 percent.
Too often, those with mental illness do not get treatment until they become involved in the justice system. COMIO is a 12-member council of appointed subject matter experts that strive to end the criminalization of individuals with mental illness by supporting proven strategies that promote early intervention, access to effective treatments, a planned re-entry to society and the preservation of public safety. COMIO examines strategies that strengthen service coordination among state and local mental health, criminal justice, and juvenile justice programs. In addition, COMIO promotes strategies that improve the ability of adult and juvenile offenders with mental health needs to transition successfully between corrections-based, juvenile-based, and community-based treatment programs.
“Our mission at COMIO might seem daunting, but it is critically important,” said COMIO Chair and CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan. “We aim to build bridges between partners in criminal justice and mental health so that we can tackle this challenge collaboratively.”
Breaking the barrier of stigma
While effectively using our various roles in the criminal justice and mental health systems is important, achieving systemic change requires tackling stigma-based decision making. By raising awareness and consciousness, we can work to reduce the stigmas inflicting this population. Stigma leads to unfair judgment, and unfair judgment leads to unfair behavior and interaction.

Our collective challenge is to ensure stigma does not influence the policies and practices we use when working with individuals with mental health challenges. Particularly those who are, or who are at risk of becoming, incarcerated. Actions based in myths and misperceptions can reinforce the marginalized status of justice-involved individuals with mental illness, which can be far-reaching and significantly debilitating. For example, a person with mental illness arrested on theft, with no prior history of violence, should not have a higher bond than a person without mental illness who was arrested for the same crime.
COMIO focused on the three priority areas in 2016:
  • Diversion – Overcoming Barriers to Build Capacity for Effective Interventions
  • Training – Supporting Skills and Competencies Beyond First-Responders
  • Juvenile Justice – Understanding and Addressing the Needs of a Changing Population
Key themes
Waiting to address behavioral health needs until incarceration will pull scarce resources towards the wrong end of the system. The time to invest in strategies that divert individuals from incarceration and enhance service and housing capacity for those with high needs and risks is now. Difficult decisions are ahead for local and state policymakers. The COMIO report provides guidance and encourages decision-making that supports the individual living with behavioral health needs, as well as, and the various systems trying to serve that individual while fulfilling their own obligations and duties.
Below is a summary of the most pertinent key themes raised in the COMIO 2016 Annual Report.
  • The stigma associated with mental illness, substance use disorder, and justice status must be recognized and not tolerated to ensure that policies and practices do not perpetuate inequities.
  • Assumptions about what works and does not work must be challenged by insisting on measuring both reductions in recidivism and behavioral health symptoms.
  • The majority of justice-involved individuals with mental illness have a co-occurring substance use disorder which complicates treatment and recovery. Access to adequate services for co-occurring disorders, substance misuse, medical conditions and qualified staff is essential.
  • Sharing sensitive information, both health and justice data, is essential to target efforts to prevent incarceration.
  • Assessment tools must be utilized to identify the level of risk and need of each justice-involved individual with mental illness to assure that appropriate treatment and services are provided and directed towards reducing recidivism.
  • Maximize the use of federally supported Medi-Cal funding in all diversion efforts.
  • The housing crisis, high cost and accessibility of housing, and stigma towards justice-involved individuals with mental illness are real and present barriers to efforts to build and provide community alternatives to incarceration whether it be inpatient facilities, crisis residential, group homes, or independent living. Broad, comprehensive, and creative efforts beyond addressing the needs of the homeless or at-risk of homelessness are needed.
  • Support expanded efforts to keep individuals with mental illness out of jails through examining bail and pre-trial detention policies that have a disproportional impact on individuals with mental illness.
  • Consider how mental illness as a basis for diversion could be expanded. Review which offenses could be additionally considered for authorization of diversion.
  • Crisis response is not just about trained first responders. What is needed is a planned response that goes beyond the initial contact and leads to ongoing treatment in the community. Without developing these capacities, no amount of training can resolve law enforcement’s current burden.
  • Law enforcement and community correctional officers are faced with an increasingly challenging mental health population. They need opportunities to build skills and support their own well-being so they can perform an increasingly demanding job.
  • High-risk and high need justice-involved youth are congregating in our detention facilities and are in need of foster care reforms to be effective. Continued efforts to ensure the “difficult” to serve, particularly foster care youth, get the services they need, especially substance use treatment.
  • At a state-level prioritize support for data infrastructure, including at the local level, but only collect data needed to monitor trends to inform policies and practices. Support local entities gain the capacity for further research and evaluation efforts on best practices.
Future direction
It was a year of change for COMIO with the addition of new leadership, members and staff. COMIO embarked on efforts to strengthen our relationships with key partners across criminal justice and behavioral health systems. During this process we recognized a need to focus efforts on building bridges across systems to improve understanding of different perspectives and promote problem-solving to prevent incarceration.

Change has many positive outcomes, including an opportunity to look at COMIO’s priorities and accomplishments and adjust to seize existing opportunities and tackle challenges. In 2017, it will be a year of further change by re-structuring committee and council meetings. This will allow for more intensive issue-specific work in fewer areas with more input from state and local experts and stakeholders.

To follow COMIO’s work and to receive information about workshops and meetings, visit and subscribe to the monthly newsletter by emailing

For additional information or assistance with CDCR, contact the Office of External Affairs at (916) 445-4950.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Proposition 64 – Marijuana Legalization

Proposition 64 – Marijuana Legalization

Proposition 64 changes state law to legalize adult nonmedical use of marijuana; creates a system for regulating nonmedical marijuana businesses; imposes taxes on marijuana; and changes penalties for marijuana-related crimes.

Proposition 64 was approved by California voters on November 8, 2016. It changed penalties for future marijuana crimes, and changed state marijuana penalties. For example, possession of one ounce or less of marijuana was previously punishable by a $100 fine. In addition, selling marijuana for nonmedical purposes was punishable by up to four years in state prison or county jail. Under the new law, if under the age of 18, an individual would instead be required to attend a drug education or counseling program and complete community service. 

Also, selling marijuana without a license would be a crime generally punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $500. Individuals engaging in any marijuana business activity without a license would be subject to a civil penalty of up to three times the amount of the license fee for each violation. The penalties for driving a vehicle while under the impairment of marijuana would remain the same. The new law requires the destruction of criminal records for individuals arrested or convicted for certain marijuana-related offenses within the past two years.

How the new law affects inmates in prison for marijuana crimes

  • Individuals previously convicted of marijuana crimes who are currently serving a state prison sentence for activities that are now legal or are subject to lesser penalties are eligible to petition for resentencing.
  • A court will not be required to resentence someone if it determined that the person was likely to commit certain severe crimes.
  • Qualifying individuals will be resentenced to whatever punishment they would have received under the new law.
  • Resentenced individuals currently in jail or prison will be subject to community supervision (such as probation) for up to one year following their release, unless a court removes that requirement.
  • Individuals who have completed sentences for crimes that are reduced by the measure can apply to the courts to have their criminal records changed.
  • No inmates from state prison will be automatically resentenced or released. Courts will determine whether an inmate meets the eligibility criteria and poses an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety. 
Offender eligibility

As of Oct. 31, 2016, CDCR estimates that approximately 1,449 offenders under the department’s supervision (inmates and parolees) would be eligible to petition a court for resentencing.  The courts would then determine whether an inmate poses an unreasonable risk to public safety.

The resentencing process

Offenders must petition the court in which they were sentenced to have their felony marijuana-related convictions reduced. County courts would conduct resentencing hearings after determining whether the offender’s criminal history would make him/her eligible for resentencing. Under the new law, the court would be required to resentence eligible offenders unless it determines that resentencing would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.

In exercising its discretion, the court may consider all of the following:
  • Criminal history, including the type of crimes committed, the extent of injury to victims and the length of prior prison commitments
  • Disciplinary record and record of rehabilitation while incarcerated
  • Other evidence relevant to determine the risk to public safety 
Offenders whose requests for resentencing are denied by the courts would continue to serve out their terms as originally sentenced.

How will inmates become aware of the law change?

CDCR has identified the inmates who may be affected and has a process to educate them about the law change, including plans to:
  • Provide information in prison law libraries
  • Post notices in housing units
  • Broadcast information on prison video channels
  • Notify Inmate Advisory Council representatives

All information would be provided in English and Spanish. 

For additional information, please contact Albert Rivas at or Matthew Westbrook at or call the Office of External Affairs at (916) 445-4950.

CDCR is helping families receive an extra $6,000 this tax season

What would you do with an extra $6,000?

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is helping families receive an extra $6,000 this tax season.

California began offering its own Earned Income Tax Credit (Cal EITC) starting with calendar year 2015 tax returns. This is a new refundable tax credit that puts money back in the pockets of California’s working families and individuals.

To receive free tax preparation assistance, visit the following link to find free tax assistance locations:

Cal EITC is modeled after a federal credit that also gives back money to working families. With the combined state and federal credits, the program provides up to $6,000. That’s money that can be used for rent, utilities, groceries, and other important expenses. The Maximum California refund a family can receive is $2,653. The only way to obtain the California EITC credit is to file your taxes.

The amount of the cash-back tax credit depends on individual income and family size. To qualify for at least one of the two cash-back credits, wages must be less than $54,000. The number of qualifying children supported also impacts the credit amount.

To be eligible for the Cal EITC cash-back program, you must have a W-2 and Social Security Number. Eligible income ranges from less than $6,560 with no dependents, and up to $13,870 for those with two or more dependents. If you have no dependents, you must be 25 to 65 years old.

Visit to get more information about qualifying child requirements or to use the credit calculator to find out how much cash-back tax credits are worth.

For information or assistance with CDCR, contact the Office of External Affairs
at (916) 445-4950.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

CDCR Announces Automated Email Notification Services for Crime Victims

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services (OVSRS) announced they will begin using the new Automated Email Notification Services to better serve and communicate with crime victims starting in December 2016. The new Automated Email Notification Services will allow for a 90-day in advance email notification of release to crime victims whose offender is in CDCR custody. The system will also be able to immediately email victims and notify them of an escape or death of an offender. With the addition of this new service, CDCR will discontinue sending notifications through the Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) service effective December 31, 2016.

In an effort to streamline notification requests and offender updates, CDCR began providing more electronic tools and services to victims and their family members over the past year.
For instance, during this year’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, OVSRS unveiled the new e1707, Request for Victim Services web form, which gives victims and their family members the option of using online services from their smartphone or any computer. This electronic service allows the victim to update their contact information and change requested services quickly and on their own time. Also, the CDCR Inmate ID Locator, allows victims and other members of the public to confirm an offender’s CDCR number and current prison location any time of the day.

Currently, CDCR delivers more than 20,000 notifications every year to victims of CDCR offenders. CDCR has approximately 117,000 offenders in its 35 institutions and another 14,000 offenders in its out-of-state correctional facilities, community correctional facilities and conservation camps.If you or a family member is a victim of a crime, it is vital that you register for available services provided by CDCR. Registering with the department will allow you access to a menu of services including notification of release, escape or death of an offender, collection of court ordered restitution, assistance with the parole hearing process and requests for special conditions of parole. Also, if you have been a victim in the past of an offender that is currently in a CDCR prison or has been under the jurisdiction of CDCR in the past, OVSRS may have collected restitution on your behalf. Please contact our office toll free at 1-877-256-6877 or via email at
victims can register for services online at

For all other non-victim-related services, you can contact CDCR Inmate Locator at (916) 445-6713 or access the online service at:

For more information about CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services, visit CDCR’s website at