Giving Compass' Take:

• Doug Irving discusses how supportive housing can help keep people with mental illnesses out of jails and receive the help they truly need.  

• The research found that more than 3,300 people in jail could be better served elsewhere. How can policymakers and donors work together on this issue?

• Here's an article on stopping police shootings of people with mental illness disabilities. 

Tanya Beverly thought she could communicate with her television. She heard birds and dogs finishing her thoughts for her. One mistake, one bad decision to go without her pills, landed her in the Los Angeles County Jail. That's where her story begins.

Hundreds of thousands of people like her, with serious mental illnesses, cycle in and out of American jails every year. Sheriffs around the country have complained that their local lockups now double as psychiatric hospitals. By any number of measures—costs, health outcomes, recidivism rates—the system is a failure.

Researchers at RAND have been tracking a different approach in Los Angeles. The effort is still small, compared with the need, but it has helped several thousand people stay in treatment, in housing, and out of trouble. One of them is Tanya Beverly.

“If it wasn't for this program,” she says, “I pretty much would have been homeless, out on the streets, trying to find a shelter to go to.”

It's been decades since news exposés and popular portrayals like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest helped inspire a national crusade to deinstitutionalize people with mental illnesses. Fewer than 40,000 people remain in state psychiatric hospitals today. Around ten times that many are in prison or in jail.

They are twice as likely as other inmates to have been homeless. Most have substance-use disorders in addition to their mental health problems. By some estimates, fewer than half get the psychiatric treatment they need behind bars. And when they get out, they are far more likely to commit another crime and cycle right back into the system.

Read the full article about supportive housing by Doug Irving at RAND Corporation.