By Olivia Wynkoop
Bay City News Foundation
The Alameda County District Attorney’s office is creating a countywide coalition of mental health activists and parents to advise on mental health issues in the criminal justice system.
The 26-member District Attorney’s Mental Health Commission will advise the office on how to better respond to criminal justice cases involving people with serious mental illnesses. The hope is to provide care and new pathways, rather than punishment, to the families and loved ones of those with mental health challenges, according to the district attorney’s office.
The collective closely follows the recent death of an Oakland U.S. Postal Service worker, Dilma Franks-Spruill. A 28-year-old man with bipolarity and schizophrenia has been arrested and accused of stabbing her to death on Jan. 11.
In response, the suspect’s mother called for a greater push for mental health resources. She previously said it was challenging to encourage her adult son to take his medication and pursue help.
“We want to treat people suffering with mental health issues with the care and responsible justice they deserve,” said District Attorney Pamela Price. “The creation of this commission is just the beginning in effecting change. It won’t happen overnight, but rest assured, this is a step in the right direction in providing alternatives to mass incarceration.”
“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.
“Far too often the only time our family members get treatment is with a criminal sentence and all the additional baggage that comes with it doesn’t help their recovery. There must be a better path to recovery and care in our county,” she said.
Representatives from the district attorney’s office on the commission include Senior Assistant District Attorneys Annie Esposito and Cynthia Chandler; Deputy District Attorneys Jason Sjoberg and Ryan Khojasteh; and mental health clinicians Raymond Laundry and Kelsey O’Neil.
Others on the commission include Pleasanton City Councilmember Julie Testa,
psychologist Tony Jackson, East Bay entrepreneur Ray Bobbitt, and Elaine Peng, executive director/founder of the Mental Health Association for Chinese Communities.