This “Field Notes for Behavioral Health” presents an overview of crisis stabilization units (CSUs) and guidance for designing and operating an effective CSU in partnership with a local criminal justice system
CSUs are facilities that provide crisis stabilization services to people in need of urgent care related to mental illnesses, substance-use disorders, or both. Although most users walk in on their own or are referred by law enforcement officers, some jurisdictions also accept referrals from mobile crisis teams and district attorneys. CSUs can differ in the types of services they provide. They may include behavioral health screening and assessment, counseling, prescribing and monitoring psychotropic medication, and connecting people to other community services. They may also differ in how long people can stay and whether they operate 24 hours a day. The creation and use of CSUs have expanded among jurisdictions because they often provide a better alternative to an emergency room for people experiencing a mental health crisis and expands the discretionary options for law enforcement officers in the management of cases that involve people with mental health needs. CSUs can also reduce incarceration and hospitalization costs in the management of cases that involve problem behaviors based in mental health needs. The four tips for a successful CSU briefly discussed are 1) ensure a CSU is what the jurisdiction needs; 2) build consensus and leadership buy-in; 3) create an operations plan; and 4) consider a phased funding approach. An example provided of a successful CSU is in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, which involves a partnership between the Behavioral Health Crisis Center and the criminal justice system in reducing the prevalence in the county jail of people with serious mental illness.