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Addressing Incarceration Cycles through Innovative Mental Health Programming

The Ethel and James Flinn Foundation has been engaged in supporting efforts to address the challenges faced by non-violent offenders with behavioral health issues through an innovative cross-sector jail diversion program. The goal of the program is to create better accountability about mental health care for those with behavioral health issues who appear before the probate court.

Supporting community member.

The Ethel and James Flinn Foundation is focused on improving the quality, scope and delivery of mental health services in Michigan.

The Flinn Foundation has been engaged in supporting efforts to address the challenges faced by non-violent offenders with behavioral health issues through the Wayne County Mental Health/Jail Diversion Project.

According to Transforming Lives: A Case Study on Wayne County's Mental Health Jail Diversion Program, released by the Flinn Foundation, non-violent offenders with behavioral health challenges are often not provided the resources and remediation needed for their situation, creating a cycle of incarceration, probation and hospitalization without proper support and accountability for treatment.

“We want to ensure we’re connecting people to the supports they need in their community and not send them to jail as a default for not providing behavioral health support and services,” Andrea Cole, president and CEO of the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation, said.

In 2018, the Flinn Foundation supported a Wayne County Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) mapping workshop, which included several cross-sector participants, including leaders working in courts, jails, law enforcement, mental health substance use, social services and housing.

“To have a real impact in improving services and supports for everyone, it is necessary to facilitate real cross-system collaborations. Foundations can serve as the neutral convener to bring systems together,” Cole said.

Facilitators and the SIM participants developed a comprehensive picture of how people flow through the Wayne County system and identified gaps, resources and opportunities at each of those intercept points to improve prevention and diversion efforts.

Through this work, the Mental Health Jail Diversion Program Committee was created to develop and implement a comprehensive, sustainable plan to address the diversion of non-violent offenders from jail to behavioral health care in the circuit court and to create better accountability about mental health care for those with behavioral health issues that appear before the probate court.

The Flinn Foundation’s partner case study highlights several key accomplishments of the program since its implementation, including:

  • The 36th District Court created a Mental Health Court where those with behavioral health challenges who face criminal charges are seen. According to the case study, this has been a transformative change in the way those with psychiatric needs go through the Wayne County court system.
  • The Wayne County Probate Court restructured its docket so that one judge hears all mental health cases. This has provided accountability and better care for those who appear before the court.
  • Creating the Behavioral Health Unit, the first of its kind in the state and located in the Wayne County Probate Court.
  • Crisis Intervention Team Training of Detroit Police Officers, so they can take people with behavioral health needs to a crisis stabilization unit or hospital rather than arrest them.
  • Adding Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN) social workers and behavioral health workers to the police dispatch offices.
  • Increasing citizens with behavioral health challenges getting treatment – both outpatient and inpatient – depending on their needs and situation.

The Wayne County Jail Diversion Program’s future efforts include the creation of a crisis center within the city of Detroit, helping with the continuity of care.

“Bringing systems together, focusing on shared goals and building momentum and trust along the way has been such a rewarding experience for all of us. The importance of philanthropy partnering with our local and state governments is what is necessary to build trust, collaboration and meaningful system improvements,” Cole said.

Other future efforts of the program include:

  • Expanding training in the civil court to increase understanding and opportunities for behavioral health intervention.
  • Improving data collection from many sites that are involved in the program.
  • Developing the early stages of the SIM to help people before they are arrested or hospitalized.
  • Partnering with other cross-sector agencies to ensure that people are finding housing, employment and other markers to help sustain their progress.

“It has been an honor to be a partner in this very important work with Wayne County, law enforcement, the courts, community mental health and state government. We are proud of what has been accomplished and will continue to work together,” Cole said.

Want more?

Read the full Wayne County Mental Health/Jail Diversion Program case study.