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Connections Mentally Ill Offender Program Evaluation

A mentally ill individual who engages in deviant behavior creates unique challenges for local law enforcement and detention facilities' staff. It is estimated that the San Diego Police Department alone responds to about 85,000 calls annually involving situations in which mental illness or emotional distress is the primary reason for the call. Each year, approximately 16,950 mentally ill offenders are admitted to jails managed by the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

Recognizing the increasing number of mentally ill offenders, the California State Legislature enacted legislation that authorized funding for local entities to develop strategies and programs to reduce the cycle of offending and incarceration of the mentally ill.

In 1999, the Sheriff's Department, in partnership with the San Diego County Probation Department, sought and received a grant from the Board of Corrections (BOC) in the amount of $5 million. The resulting program, called Connections, operated for four years and included a front-end assessment of offenders upon jail entry and intensive, specialized case management in the community upon release from jail.

The program was based on a model called ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) that had been shown to be more effective with the mentally ill than traditional case management. The principles had not, however, been tested with the mentally ill offender.

Using a team of social workers, correctional officers, and probation officers, the offenders were systematically assessed in the jail setting and followed closely upon release. Efforts included the provision of a stable caretaker, proper usage of medication, appropriate job training and opportunities, as well as linking to community resources. The goal of the program was to reduce the criminality of these individuals and limit their time in custody.

The SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division contracted with the Sheriff's Department to conduct the required evaluation of the Connections program. The evaluation incorporated both a process and impact assessment to determine how well the program worked with different types of offenders.

A classic experimental design methodology was employed to enhance confidence in the final results. Subjects were randomly chosen to be part of a treatment or a control group. The treatment group received the specialized case management while those in the control group participated in regular case management of mentally ill offenders.

The evaluation was based on data collected on participant demographic characteristics and their assessment scores, and on service interventions. A comparative approach identified factors relative to program completion.

Project Manager

Sandy Keaton, Senior Criminal Justice Research Analyst
Phone: (619) 699-6933, Email: sandy.keaton@sandag.org

For media inquiries, please contact the SANDAG Public Information Office at (619) 699-1950 or pio@sandag.org.