FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 26, 2021
CONTACT: SF Public Defender’s Office – Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org – (628)249-7946
16 Public Defender Clients Graduate Behavioral Health Court
First Virtual Graduation Celebrates Participants as they Strive to Heal Amidst Pandemic
SAN FRANCISCO – Today, in a ceremony held on zoom and presided over by Superior Court Judge Charles Crompton, sixteen clients of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office graduated from Behavioral Health Court, a diversion program in San Francisco Superior Court that gives people who are diagnosed with mental illness a chance to heal and excel rather than suffer prolonged incarceration and a criminal record that would otherwise inhibit their future prospects.
“BHC is a true collaboration of justice partners and the participants, and the more people we can help heal rather than incarcerate, the healthier and safer our communities will be,” said Vilaska Nguyen, Managing Attorney of Collaborative Courts for the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. “Like the individuals who participate in BHC, the program itself deserves a chance to grow because it allows people to get the support they need in order to make positive transformations.”
Behavioral Health Court is a robust collaboration between the participants and various justice partners where individuals who were initially facing misdemeanor or felony charges have the opportunity to resolve their cases through individualized treatment plans and case management. Resources can include therapy and health care, residential and outpatient addiction treatment, housing assistance, job training and educational opportunities. By completing the program, participants could have their cases dismissed, probation terminated early, or felony charges reduced to misdemeanors.
BHC attempts to tackle some of the most entrenched problems of mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness in San Francisco. Partners in the BHC program include the Public Defender, District Attorney, Adult Probation, Jail Health, Citywide, Golden Gate Regional Center, Sheriff, Superior Court and independent service providers. Graduations are held twice a year, and Mayor London Breed spoke at today’s ceremony recognizing the hard work of all the participants, especially in the face of a global pandemic.
At today’s graduation ceremony, BHC graduate Leticia Flores mentioned that she had not only made “emotional breakthroughs” but also had rediscovered her leadership abilities. Ms. Flores was involved in student government and was class president in the 5th grade, but that had been derailed by her mental illness and dual-diagnosis. While participating in BHC, she became the dorm leader at Harbor Lights, and is hopeful for the future. She thanked everyone in the program for “believing I can win over my addiction.”
“I am so proud of our clients who graduated from BHC. Today, there are 16 fewer people who, a year ago, were suffering with mental illness, many of them homeless and self-medicating, and now they are healthier, more stable and on track to future success,” said Deputy Public Defender Prithika Balakrishnan, who works with clients in BHC. “These are the stories you don’t hear in the press — the stories of people who face tremendous challenges due to mental illness and poverty, and even in the midst of this pandemic, are doing their very best to improve their lives and heal.”