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Posted on: October 18, 2019

County Diversion Program Helps Seriously Mentally Ill Lower Risk to Return to Jail

HelpingHand

An innovative program to get low risk offenders with serious mental health needs out of the county jail system and connected with services is showing strong signs of success.

Maricopa County justice system stakeholders including Correctional Health Services teamed up with Southwest Behavioral Health to form the Criminal Justice Engagement Team (CJET) in 2016.

“They identify people who are seriously mentally ill and are low risk and then they go right there at intake and they say look if you’re interested in doing this, we will take this to the judge,” explained Dr. Dawn Noggle, who served at Maricopa County’s Mental Health Services Director until June 2019.  “If the judge approves it, we will be there to meet you.  We will get you as you walk out of jail and we will follow you with the services you need for 90 days if that’s what you need.”

The first round of data shows CJET participants had a recidivism rate 25% lower than a control group that had been offered the program but declined.  Participants must be designated as seriously mentally ill (SMI).  SMI individuals make up approximately 7% of the county jail population.  The program is voluntary.  Those who agree to participate are connected with services and treatment; their housing needs are assessed; and they even receive transportation to court appearances.

“Because even if you provide all of these other services, if people don’t make their court appearances, then it’s a 'failure to appear' and they’re back in jail after you’ve done all of this!” said Dr. Noggle.  “So it’s a powerful, powerful program with great community partners who have such focus and passion for this work.”

By the numbers (2017):

  • 973 SMI individuals referred to CJET
  • 14% participated in the program.  86% chose not to participate.
  • The recidivism rate of CJET participants was 32%.
  • The recidivism rate of those referred to CJET, but who chose not to participate, was 57%/

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