Along with the $9 million the U.S Department of Justice is making available through the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP) comes a major paradigm shift in the intersection between criminal justice and mental health. Every year 2 million people with mental illness find themselves in jail. That number far surpasses those in mental hospitals. This situation is unfortunate for everyone involved. Individuals are not getting the treatment they need and counties are faced with an ever increasing price tag for their incarceration. Inmates with mental illness cost more to treat, have longer stays, and contribute to a higher recidivism rate than the rest of the population.
As alarming as these statistic are, new comprehensive community-based treatment programs are helping turn them around. That is why the JMHCP has changed its focus from individual programs to a system-wide collaborative approach. Proposed projects for this grant must be jointly administered by both a criminal justice and a mental health agency. The JMHCP supports the Stepping Up Initiative. A collaboration of The National Association of Counties (NACo), The Council of State Governments (CSG), the American Psychiatric Foundation, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and others, their aim is to decriminalize mental illness. Rather than locking people up, agencies come together to provide support in all areas of life for reintegration into society.
Governing recently featured one successful model in Miami-Dade County. Judge Steve Leifman created an approach that has elements in common with successful models elsewhere. The first step is diversion from jail to crisis intervention. When someone is arrested for a nonviolent minor offense, they may be given the option of treatment instead of incarceration. Treatment includes housing, case management, medical attention, and help securing an income. Since drug dependency often coexists with mental illness, substance abuse counseling is crucial. After one year, only 20 percent of the participants who finished the treatment went back to jail, compared to 72 percent for those who did not complete treatment. Other components of such programs include drug courts, training for police officers to help persons with mental illness avoid arrest to begin with, and hiring clients as peer advisors. The end results are rebuilt lives and cost savings to taxpayers.
If you would like more information about the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program, click here. The application deadline is May 17, 2016. If you would like to watch the livestream for the National Stepping Up Summit cohosted by NACO, CSG, and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation held April 18-19, click here.