The number of people with mental illness in U.S. jails has reached crisis levels. In counties across the nation, some jails now have more people with mental illness than in local psychiatric hospitals. Stepping Up is a nationwide initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails, and this May Stepping Up is leading a full Month of Action, during which time counties will demonstrate their impact and highlight their efforts toward reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in jail.
So how are we “Stepping Up?”
We operate a successful Diversion First program, which 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.
Close to 1,400 people have been diverted from potential arrest thanks to the initiative, and progress continues as Diversion First continues to expand. We made significant strides in expanding the program within the court system in 2018. Learn about those changes and more in the 2018 Annual Report that was just released this week.
Individuals with mental illness, developmental disabilities and/or co-occurring substance use disorders sometimes find themselves in the judicial system at a time when what they need most is help from behavioral health specialists. To address this need, a Mental Health Docket has been approved by the Virginia Supreme Court and will officially launch in Fairfax County this July.
The docket will allow commonwealth and defense attorneys to require a defendant to complete different phases of treatment and “graduate” before that defendant’s charges will be resolved. A pilot docket, which began in August 2018, has already helped more than 180 people and bodes well for the Mental Health Docket’s success.
Similar to the Mental Health docket, the Veterans Treatment Docket provides court services and support for veterans of our armed forces. This docket has been in place in Fairfax County since February 2015, and is designed to address the mental health and substance abuse issues often resulting from the combat stresses of military service.
The Fairfax County Veterans Treatment Docket will hold a graduation ceremony Thursday, May 23, marking the successful completion of 24 months of comprehensive treatment and supervision by military veterans.
Each quarter, a variety of stakeholders interested in diversion come together to discuss the county’s progress and future efforts. The next meeting takes place Thursday, May 16 at 7 p.m. at the Government Center and is open to anyone interested in learning more about Diversion First in Fairfax County.