They Don’t Go Back to Jail and We Save Millions?

The County of San Diego Behavioral Health Services (BHS) has a program called Project In-Reach that cuts recidivism, or return-to-jail rates by 50%. The county spends a little to help someone out of jail, then saves almost 26 times the cost of that program – for hundreds of people who would have likely re-offended and been sent right back to jail.

There’s people I know who believe that all things are equal and only criminals go to jail (even though technically we’re all guilty of breaking the law every day). But, even they cannot argue the cost to savings ratio.

It’s as if our elected leaders could walk up and put your tax dollar in an ATM machine and getting $26 back to apply to county programs and services. Who thinks that’s a bad idea?

Well, believe it or not, we face that very challenge looking at this next fiscal year’s BHS budget and the lack of full deployment of this money-saving program.

The short version of this post is this paper.

A little more discussion…

Perhaps a County department isn’t motivated to achieve such significant savings if at the end of the day that savings doesn’t necessarily go back into their available funding stream? (idea: change to an innovative system where outside departments share the savings [eg 25% for a set period like 3 years] to incentivize innovation?) From my perspective however, I believe it’s a bigger issue and one that appears to be the crux of this dilemma. That is, there appears to be a systemic culture within the County, and much like any other municipality, where budgets and political two-stepping for year-after-year sustained funding (with increases!) has been prioritized over the ultimate care of our citizens. Try as we may, external citizen and advocate input often doesn’t even appear to scratch the surface of the equation.

The primary point I intend to convey in a brief paper released today reads:

“Informed and engaged citizens without political or funding conflicts want to ensure their local government is doing it’s best to serve our most needy populations and the entire county population as a whole. Given the political nature of local and other government, the significant levels of funding, the complexity of funding and program mechanisms – doesn’t it make sense to include more people, not just the few serving on the Supervisor-appointed positions on advisory boards, with better financial, procurement and outcome information on a more timely basis?”

On a related note, I’ve sat on the Alcohol & Drug Advisory Board (ADAB) and the new Behavioral Health Advisory Board (BHAB) which is a combined AOD and Mental Health Board the County has transitioned into, for several years. I’m always surprised how few people provide public comment – most meetings I’ve attended had none. If there’s no public outcry why change anything?

My appeal to you is please read and share the paper. If it makes sense please send an email to the address in the paper asap. Make a call if you’d like but, email is perfectly effective as well. The point is our local governments do what they do, tax and spend. They do it with more heart and concern here in San Diego County but, even our leaders need nudges every now and then.

I believe it’s important that, if you believe getting more money in the hands of the people who are successfully helping keep our men and women, young and old, sick or poor, black, brown or white… out of jail – not to mention the hundreds of other programs the BHS oversees, we should stand up and tell our elected officials we see, we care and we support their being funded. At the same time, we should be clamoring to modify or abandon things that don’t work.

Please, take a minute to reply to the email or contact your Supervisor directly and let them know what you think.

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