Words to Deeds brings light to mental health services in justice system

150 150 Christopher Nelson

Earlier this month, Words to Deeds held a conference in Sacramento with featured speaker the honorable Judge Steven Leifman of Miami-Dade County, Florida and who also works with the Council of State Governments, Justice Leadership Initiative. He discussed his successful efforts to improve Florida’s response to the mentally ill who become involved in the criminal justice system. State and local leaders also discussed their work related to Crisis Intervention Teams, post-arrest interventions, and reentry as they relate to those with mental illness.

Words to Deeds’s mission is to “end the criminalization of individuals with mental illness by supporting proven strategies that promote early intervention, access to effective treatments, a planned reentry and the preservation of public safety.”

This mission is very in line with much of the work California Forward’s Partnership for Community Excellence (PCE) has been undertaking for close to two years now. The notion that people with mental illness who commit require treatment over incarceration to prevent crimes from reoccurring is finally taking hold outside of small criminal justice circles, in large part due to organizations such as Words to Deeds.

Nearly 100 state and local leaders, the people behind efforts to get individuals with serious mental illness and who are involved with the law receive the kinds of services need to aid in recovery and reduce the likelihood of a repeat offense, attended this event.

At the evening reception, Paradigm Awards were presented to four individuals who are champions for changing the paradigm for criminal justice and mental health.  

Sharon Aungst, Director of the PCE, presented the Paradigm Award for Community Champion to Mark Gale, the father of a mentally ill son who wound up in jail.  

“We often recognize our state and county leaders who hold positions in the system yet we often forget about the many unsung heroes who spend countless hours trying to improve the system,” Aungst said.  “Mark is someone who has devoted much of his life to the unpaid and challenging work of helping families navigate the criminal justice system and working with jails and other agencies to clear the path for families wanting to help their incarcerated loved ones.”   

The Community Champion Award was presented to Mark Gale because of his incredible advocacy work in Los Angeles and in the state as a whole. He has been involved in many criminal justice and mental health initiatives as a member of the NAMI Board, a chair of several NAMI committees, a member of several work groups for the Administrative Office of the Courts.  

He is currently co-coordinator of the California Treatment Advocacy Coalition and recently co-authored “My Family Member Has Been Arrested  What Do I Do,” a family crisis guide. Lastly, he developed the Inmate Medication Information Form, which 15 counties have since adapted the guide and use the form.  Mark has been a fierce advocate for families of persons with mental illness, taking crisis calls from families over the years.  

Other award recipients were:

County Champion:  Scott MacDonald, Santa Cruz County Chief of Probation

Law Enforcement Champion:  Former San Benito County Sheriff Curtis J. Hill

LIfetime Achievement Award:  David Meyer, Esq., Research Scholar, Institute of Psychiatry, Law and Behavioral Sciences, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.


Christopher Nelson

All stories by: Christopher Nelson