Public policy and limits of diversion programs for reducing jail exposure of persons with serious mental illness
Department of Psychiatry
Medical Subject Headings
Community Mental Health Services; Criminal Law; Mental Disorders; Outcome and Process Assessment (Health Care); Public Policy
Health Services Research | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatric and Mental Health | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology
OBJECTIVE: Diverting potential arrestees with serious mental illnesses from the criminal justice system to mental health services has become a mainstay of public policy. Federal funding for local diversion and mental health court programs mandates that recipients of funds focus on "nonviolent misdemeanants," allowing more serious offenders to proceed through the justice system. This study explored the potential effects of applying such exclusions to a group of arrestees with serious psychiatric illnesses.
METHODS: Data on charges in a cohort of mental health service recipients (N=13,816) were analyzed.
RESULTS: Episodes of felony arrest, including some involving violence toward others, outnumbered misdemeanors. Under federal funding policies, many such cases would be processed through the justice system.
CONCLUSIONS: Expanding inclusion criteria is necessary if diversion is to significantly affect incarceration rates among persons with mental illnesses. Policy makers should heed the accumulating evidence in this area in determining priorities for funding.