LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey's work to help those with mental illness in the criminal justice system will be recognized by a national group this weekend.
Lacey, who has been the county's DA for nearly two years, is being honored by the National Alliance of Mental Illness for her leadership in the group's Criminal Justice Mental Health Project, a nationwide effort to address the way persons with mental illness interact with the criminal justice system.
According to NAMI, Lacey gathered city and county agencies, including the Sheriff's Department, fire agencies, police, public defenders, judges and advocates, to educate them on national models for addressing the inappropriate detainment of people with mental illness in county jails.
"I'm really honored to receive this award from really a fellow justice partner," Lacey said. "But I do feel it belongs to all of us, since it's a group effort."
But the county's top prosecutor realizes there is still work to be done. Two recent cases have made headlines when suspects, said to have mental illness, were shot by officers. Ezell Ford was shot in South LA in August, and just last week Johnny Martinez was killed in Florence.
"Certainly, they are a concern, and I would like to see in the future those incidents where they end in loss of life reduced," said Lacey, who was unable to speak specifically about the ongoing cases. "It is not the fault of law enforcement that we have not provided them with the training and the tools to deal with the amount of mentally ill people that they have to deal with in Los Angeles County."
Lacey said the county is working at implementing a system similar to one being used in Memphis, Tenn., that has cut down the number of officer-involved shootings of those with mental illness.
"They're specially trained, they already have a lot of background information on the person that they are responding to," she said. "And they come out and they know how to diffuse the situation."
Lacey said funding has been allocated for training and a crisis center to house those in need, rather than officers taking them to the hospital or jail.
"It really is just time for us to take different look at how to treat those who are mentally ill in the system," she said.
Lacey will receive the award Saturday morning, prior to the start of the NAMI WALKS fundraiser in downtown Los Angeles.
for more features.