By Julie McCaffrey
ALAMEDA, CA – A District Attorney Mental Health Commission, a countywide group of citizens and officials who volunteered to advise the District Attorney’s Office on its response to the ongoing Alameda County mental health crisis, has been created, according to the DA’s office.
Members of the commission include parents, activists, public and private officials in the community who hope to provide a voice for those unheard, said District Attorney Pamela Price.
The goal of this commission, according to the DA, is to bring different voices and perspectives together to help inform the DA’s office in cases where mental illness is a factor, and improve the office’s response to citizens experiencing mental health challenges while impacted by the justice system.
This comes following years of heightened mental health awareness and activism toward the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw an increase in mental illness and demand for mental health support (APA article).
Mental illness among those incarcerated has increased as well, according to a 2016 report that found 56 percent of people in state prisons have a prior or current mental health problem, but only one out of four receive treatment.
“We need to find a way to get our loved ones care—not cages,” said Kimberly Graves, a member of Alameda County’s Families Advocating for the Seriously Mentally Ill.
District Attorney Price noted, “We want to treat people suffering with mental health issues with the care and responsible justice they deserve,” and calls the commission “a step in the right direction in providing alternatives to mass incarceration.”
The counsel given from the commission will be vital, Price added, because the District Attorney’s office works to improve the operation of the justice system. The DA’s office said it hopes to work with county partners to expand the services and scope of behavioral health courts.
The DA’s office statement noted, “Our office is represented by Senior Assistant District Attorneys Annie Esposito and Cynthia Chandler; Deputy District Attorneys Jason Sjoberg and Ryan Khojasteh, currently assigned to the collaborative courts; and mental health clinicians Raymond Laundry and Kelsey O’Neil.
“Other notable Commission members countywide include Pleasanton City Councilmember Julie Testa, psychologist and professor Dr. Tony Jackson, East Bay entrepreneur Ray Bobbitt, and Executive Director/Founder of the Mental Health Association for Chinese Communities, Elaine Peng.”