Significance and Goals: Mental health diversion programs recognize that individuals with mental illnesses often end up in the criminal justice system due to factors beyond their control. Traditional incarceration can exacerbate their conditions, lead to a cycle of reoffending, and strain the resources of both the justice system and mental health services. Diversion programs seek to provide appropriate treatment, support, and supervision while addressing the root causes of criminal behavior.
Effectiveness and Outcomes: Research indicates that mental health diversion programs can have positive outcomes. They often lead to reduced recidivism rates, as individuals receive treatment that addresses the underlying causes of their criminal behavior. Moreover, these programs can alleviate the burden on jails and prisons, saving costs and resources while allowing law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes.
Four Specific Mental Health Diversion Programs:
Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT): CIT programs train law enforcement officers to recognize and respond to individuals experiencing mental health crises. Officers learn de-escalation techniques and connect individuals to appropriate mental health services rather than arresting them. The Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model is a widely recognized example that has been adopted by numerous jurisdictions.
Mental Health Courts: Mental health courts provide an alternative legal process for individuals with mental illnesses. Participants undergo treatment plans, counseling, and regular court appearances. Successful completion of the program can result in reduced charges or sentences. The Brooklyn Mental Health Court in New York City and the Miami-Dade Criminal Mental Health Project are notable examples.
Pre-Booking Diversion Programs: These programs divert individuals with mental illnesses away from the criminal justice system before they are booked into jails. Law enforcement may connect them with crisis intervention specialists or transport them to mental health facilities for assessment and treatment. The Houston Police Department's Crisis Call Diversion Program is an illustration of this approach.
Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT): AOT programs are court-ordered mandates for individuals with severe mental illnesses to comply with treatment plans as a condition of living in the community. These programs are designed to prevent relapses and hospitalizations and ensure ongoing care. New York's Kendra's Law is a well-known example of an AOT program.
Conclusion: Mental health diversion programs offer a promising avenue for transforming the criminal justice system's response to individuals with mental illnesses. By addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior and offering treatment instead of punishment, these programs can contribute to more positive outcomes for both individuals and society. However, successful implementation requires collaboration between law enforcement, mental health services, and community organizations to ensure comprehensive and effective support.