Merced County agency awarded $2.5 million. It could help steer people away from prison


In the Merced Sun Star by Shawn Jansen

The Merced County Probation Department will receive $2.5 million in grant funds to create a “community alternatives to incarceration” program. The funding comes from Senate Bill 843, established in 2016. Included in the legislation is a competitive grant program intended to expand access to jail and prison diversion programs and services.

 The grant program also aims to create or expand facilities aimed at treating mental health issues, substance use disorder, and trauma. 

“The Merced County Probation Department plans to utilize the funds to remodel a building in the City of Merced that will house the Pathways to Wellness Program,” according to county spokesperson Mike North. “The Pathways to Wellness Program is specifically geared toward programs and services for pretrial diversion, targeting individuals who have mental health or substance use disorders.” 

According to North, the Pathways to Wellness Program will include a clinical team that will provide mental health services, substance use disorder treatment, intensive case management, restorative justice, job skills training/employment services, and housing related support. 

“The Pathways to Wellness Program is a clear option for those individuals who eventually become enmeshed in a cycle of costly justice system involvement,” Merced County Chief Probation Officer Kalisa Rochester noted in her proposal. The Probation Department will hold a competitive bidding process to handle the project management for the building remodel.