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California Assembly votes to allow arrestees to go straight to social services

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(The Center Square) – The California State Assembly voted unanimously to let individuals arrested by police be delivered or referred to a public health or social services organization instead of facing custody and arraignment.

Under the arresting officer’s discretion, when “no further proceedings are desired,” AB 2215 would allow the “release an arrested person from custody without bringing the person before a magistrate if the person is, subsequent to being arrested, delivered or referred to a public health or social service organization that provides services including, but not limited to, housing, medical care, treatment for alcohol or substance use disorders, psychological counseling, or employment training and education.”

Under existing law, individuals arrested and placed into custody without an existing warrant must be brought to a magistrate for arraignment “without unnecessary delay.” Should AB 2215, written by Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, D-Los Angeles and co authored by Assemblymembers Juan Alanis, R-Modesto, and Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, pass the Senate, it could significantly reduce the population of individuals waiting in jail to be charged.

Formally filed opposition to the bill, which only included the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association, focused on the risk to safety, and how judge-mandated diversionary programs that include treatment or training may be more effective than those that are only voluntary.

“Without proper assessment of the individual’s potential threat to society, there’s a possibility that releasing them directly to a health or social service organization could put the community at risk,” wrote LACPPOA in their opposition. “While providing access to health and social services is important, it should not come at the expense of proper legal proceedings. Bringing individuals before a magistrate ensures that they can access rehabilitation programs within the framework of the legal system, potentially leading to more effective outcomes in addressing underlying issues such as substance abuse or mental health disorders.”

In California, Los Angeles and San Francisco have already been piloting Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion programs, which were recently assessed in a report to the legislature. Initial data for the program is mixed and difficult to ascertain, as Los Angeles’ data was incomplete and program participants’ case managers coordinated with prosecutors and public defenders so “as not to compromise LEAD intervention plans,” and it’s likely that officers, perhaps rightfully, could have selected individuals for the program based on their belief the arrested individual would benefit from the program.

This initial data, which focused on individuals in San Francisco arrested for suspected of recent drug or sex work offenses, and found in a 18-month matched comparison between LEAD participants and a control group that LEAD participants were 3.7 times more likely to be cited by police, equally as likely to be arrested for a misdemeanor, slightly less likely to be charged with a misdemeanor and less than half as likely to be arrested or charged for a felony as those who did not go through the program.