Diversion First Program Leads to Stepping Up Innovator Designation

A county staff person interviews a resident upon intake.

Fairfax County has been named a Stepping Up Innovator County for its expertise in collecting baseline data on the number of people in its jail who have mental illnesses. This data is obtained as part of the county’s Diversion First program, an award-winning initiative that offers alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities who come into contact with the criminal justice system for low-level offenses. Currently, Fairfax County is one of only 17 counties that have been recognized as Innovator Counties.

“I am extremely proud of Fairfax County’s Diversion First initiative. We are excited to be part of the group of counties working to use data to change policies and practices. We are strongly committed to enhancing efforts locally and nationally to offer treatment and supports, reduce jail populations and improve public safety.” 

Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

What Is Stepping Up?

The Stepping Up initiative was launched in May 2015 by the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation to mobilize local, state and national leaders to achieve a measurable reduction in the number of people in jail who have mental illnesses.

Fairfax County joined Stepping Up during the program’s inaugural year and has taken significant steps toward reducing the number of people in its jail who have mental illnesses by diverting people to treatment as an alternative to arrest; providing intensive community supervision in lieu of incarceration; providing outreach to people who are frequent utilizers of the public safety system; implementing a Veterans Treatment Docket, Drug Court and Mental Health Docket; and providing jail-based programs and re-entry supports for people with behavioral health issues to reduce further criminal justice involvement. 

Innovator Counties Use Three-Step Approach

Fairfax County was chosen as one of a small group of Innovator Counties who are using the Stepping Up suggested three-step approach to collect and analyze timely data on the prevalence of people in their jails who have serious mental illnesses (SMI). These steps include establishing a shared SMI definition for their Stepping Up efforts across criminal justice and behavioral health systems, ensuring everyone booked into jail is screened for mental illnesses and regular reporting on this population.

“During the intake process in our Adult Detention Center, we gather information using the Brief Jail Mental Health Screen form. This tool helps us identify serious mental health needs for referral and gives us data to support our efforts to reduce the number of people in jail with mental illnesses.”

Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid

Fairfax County Helps Other Counties

As an Innovator County, Fairfax County will help other counties improve their ability to collect accurate and accessible data collection efforts by participating in training sessions, taking part in presentations, sharing information and its experiences through the Stepping Up website, and more.

“We are honored that our significant work in Diversion First has received this recognition. Ours is a uniquely community-driven program. A community stakeholders group – which includes all relevant county officials, the courts, and law enforcement – is working together to make great things happen in Fairfax County. From the beginning, we recognized that data collection would be key both in refining the program moving forward and in maintaining and growing community support. As a Stepping Up Innovator County, we will continue to put data, which translates into tangible results for real people, at the center of our efforts.  We are helping people and it shows.”

Braddock District Supervisor John C. Cook
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