Community Treatment Alternatives (CTA) was the first program in the country to offer Assertive Community Treatment in a jail diversion program. Offered at the Journey Mental Health Center, CTA provides highly individualized and intensive mental health services to each client from a multi-disciplinary team.
CTA claims a stellar reputation among mental health advocates and professionals. MOSES, the most persistent advocate for more jail diversion efforts, recommended an increase of 20 slots in the program. The Diversions Task Force, appointed by the Dane County Board of Supervisors, concurred. Funds for an additional 15 slots are included in the county’s 2017 budget.
Dave Delap, the program’s long-time director, has been paying close attention to recent discussions about jail diversion. Like other advocates, he believes that portions of the jail are inhumane, unsafe, and in need of replacement. But, along with those advocates, he thinks more could be done to promote jail diversion by expanding mental health services.
Delap said, “I was dumbfounded when Lynn Green, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, claimed, ‘No one is in jail because of lack of capacity for community mental health programs for jail diversion.'”
That remark was part of Green’s presentation to the June 6 joint meeting of two county board committees about jail diversion programs. Delap also was disappointed that the statement went unquestioned by committee members. (See Voices from the Front Line on this blog for more information about the meeting.)
Jail administrator Richelle Anhalt reported that 29 percent of the inmates were on psychotropic medication and 107 of them were termed as “special needs for mental health.” In a later statement, using figures from the jail, Lindsay Wallace of NAMI-Dane estimated that 700 people could be diverted from the jail each year if appropriate mental health services were available. (Producing an accurate count of the number of people in jails and prisons with mental illness is a contentious issue throughout the country.)
Delap has some common sense suggestions about how to increase jail diversion that result from his long experience at CTA. Flexibility and a variety of approaches are important. People with mental illness who could benefit from jail diversion vary as much as other people with mental illness.
More flexibility in the criminal justice system itself could promote diversion. Delap pointed out that Correct Care Solutions, which screens people for mental health problems when they enter the jail, is not funded to screen for the possibility of diversion. He advocates screening at many points throughout the system: before arrest, after arrest but before sentencing; at sentencing, and as an alternative to revocation of parole or probation.
Instead of another increase in CTA’s slots, Delap recommends adding a short-term program for people who have been diverted from the jail. Staff would work closely with them for six to eight months. After the person is stabilized and their long-term treatment needs understood, he or she could be enrolled in a program offering appropriate help.
Delap’s suggestions about multiple points for screening are consistent with the views of MOSES and other organizations that have argued for a crisis restoration center to which police could take people for assessment and short-term treatment instead of a jail booking. He noted that Journey operates a hospital diversion program that might be enhanced to meet the needs of jail diversion. Opponents and county officials have pointed out the need for a secure facility. That problem has been resolved in other communities.
Finding the money is an immediate and perpetual issue. About funding, Delap also has the benefit of many years of experience. He said that between 2003 and 2016, county funding directed to mental health services did not increase, despite the increase in inflation and population. Inflation alone brought about a decrease of approximately 25 percent in real dollars for mental health services.
Delap said, “The annual transfer of approximately $6 million from the budget of the Department of Health and Humans Services to the General Fund is appalling in these circumstances.”
Check back to learn about progress in a campaign to address mental health funding in Dane County.