(302943)

The Board of Supervisors this week took the first steps to move all jail inmates charged with misdemeanors but judged incompetent to stand trial out of jail and into community-based treatment.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Holly Mitchell co-authored a motion recommending the shift to community care, directing county lawyers to report back on the process required to rescind approval for the county jail system to treat the “MIST’’ population.

“The people who will benefit from today’s motion are individuals accused of minor crimes,’’ Kuehl said. “If they did not have serious mental illness, chances are they would only be in jail for a few days. But because they have serious mental illness, and must be restored to competence before their case can be decided, they often remain in jail for a long time. That makes no sense legally, medically or financially.’’

The move is part of the county’s commitment to a “care first, jails last’’ approach.

The number of competency filings for felony and misdemeanor cases has soared over the last decade, increasing more than seven fold from 2010 to 2019.

However, the pandemic forced an expansion of community-based treatment and just 70 people remain in jail as part of the MIST population as of March, according to the motion.

Under U.S. law, individuals who are declared by a judge to be incapable of understanding the trial process cannot be tried or convicted. Those individuals must be “restored’’ to competence before criminal proceedings can resume.

Advocates say letting those awaiting trial maintain connections to family members and community support can help limit recidivism, and connecting them to housing and other resources can improve their odds for long-term success.