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Behavioral Health Diversion Interventions: Moving From Individual Programs to a Systems-Wide Strategy

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2019
8 pages
This paper provides local leaders with a systems-level conceptual framework for developing a continuum of behavioral health diversion interventions that span the community's criminal justice system, from first contact with law enforcement through incarceration.
The importance of the development of behavioral health diversion programs is occasioned by the overrepresentation in the criminal justice system of people with mental illnesses and substance-use disorders. The prevalence of such health needs in residents of local jails is often three to six times higher than their representation in the general population, indicating that they are at high risk for contact with the criminal justice system. In some communities, the leadership in developing health-based diversions from the criminal justice system are coming from the courts, law enforcement agencies, or jail administrators. Based on lessons learned from these leaders, the current paper identifies and discusses six key components of a holistic and effective health-based diversion strategy. First, develop and engage collaborative multidisciplinary partnerships. Second, obtain data and professional input on the community's behavioral health needs. Third, identify existing services, supports, and gaps. Fourth, define key measures and collect data on them. Fifth, leverage funding to prioritize proposed interventions. Sixth, measure performance and sustain progress.