Members of Human Support Services and local officials gathered last week for a community strategic planning for crisis and crime prevention response.
Nineteen people attended the workshop, including HSS staff, representatives from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, law enforcement officers from nearby municipalities and EMS personnel.
These stakeholders met as part of the training and support initiative the National Council for Behavioral Health awarded to HSS earlier this year.
“It’s a 12-month initiative and really what it looks at is local community behavioral health organizations and county jails,” Ayla Colella, project director at the National Council, said. “We look for what we can do and what kind of support we can provide so there is better collaboration across the board for improved mental health outcomes and addiction outcomes for those leaving incarceration and reentering the community.”
HSS, in collaboration with the MCSD was one of only three nonprofits nationwide chosen to participate in this initiative, which is called the Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health Collaborative.
“This collaboration is an outstanding opportunity for Monroe County to make great strides forward in addressing mental health and substance abuse disorders in our justice system,” HSS Executive Director Anne King said when the initiative was announced in April. “We want to address these issues the second the individuals come into the jail, and hopefully start the rehabilitation process much sooner so we can stop the cycle of recidivism.”
Recidivism is the tendency of a criminal to become a repeat offender.
In addition to planning, the workshop included training. Dan Abreu and Michelle Saunders from Policy Research Associates, a national leader in behavioral health services research and application, led the two-day event. Colella also attended.
The training is necessary because of the large number of people in jails or prisons who have mental health problems.
“The prevalence of people with mental illnesses is higher in jails than it is in the general population,” said Abreu, who is a senior project associate at PRA.
Abreu added that a large percentage of these people can also have substance use disorders.
According to the National Council, individuals with a mental illness or substance use disorder face a higher risk of recidivism.
Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing, who attended the workshop, said that is no different in this county, adding that reducing recidivism among would help lower costs.
“I would say 75 percent of the total jail population has a mental health or drug issue,” Rohlfing said. “If we can get these people the help they need instead of just locking them up, we would reduce the money needed to house them long term. In the big picture, we’ll be able to focus our attention and resources on violent crime.”
The National Council reports that jails spend two to three times more on individuals with mental illnesses or substance use disorders, but usually do not see improvement in recovery or recidivism.
The training is designed to combat those problems by offering corrections officers and HSS staff the opportunity to develop organizational processes for screening and assessment, care planning and coordination and intervention.
At the workshop, participants worked together to examine cross-system collaboration between members of the criminal justice and mental health communities, map the local system to look for gaps, prioritize those gaps and begin developing an action plan to fix them.
On the training side, participants learned about the sequential intercept model, which was developed to inform community-based responses to the involvement of people with mental and substance use disorders in the criminal justice system.
The intercepts are various points in the criminal justice system, like initial detention and court hearings. At each intercept there are key issues that can be addressed to improve outcomes for those with mental heath issues, according to the model.
“This is a tool that provides a framework to not only look at who’s coming in and being able to collect data on where people are coming from, but also to begin to identify points of intervention, points of intercept,” Saunders, an expert consultant at PRA, said. “If someone is going to remain in the criminal justice system, this model helps show how to also move people in a timely way so people get through the criminal justice system and not get stuck there.”
At the end of the training, the group developed ideas for an action plan, which will be completed in the coming weeks.
King said following that plan is the first step to reducing recidivism.
“When we all put the work into that plan this year and in future years to come, that is when reducing recidivism becomes a reality,” she said.
HSS will remain in contact with Abreu and Saunders while implementing the plan, which is the next step of the initiative.