In Fairfax County we are changing the way our criminal justice and behavioral health systems interact, resulting in better outcomes for individuals and our community. A healthier community is a safer community, and for the Sheriff’s Office, public safety is our mission.
On January 1, 2016, Fairfax County launched Diversion First, which offers alternatives to incarceration for people with a mental illness or developmental disability who come into contact with the criminal justice system for low level offenses. The goal is to intercede whenever possible to provide assessment, treatment or needed supports. We also recognize that people needing diversion may have a co-occurring substance use disorder, which must be addressed.
Diversion First is designed to prevent repeat encounters with the criminal justice system, improve public safety, promote a healthier community and is a more cost-effective and efficient use of public funding. The program’s success is the result of collaboration and commitment among a broad group of stakeholders, including law enforcement; government leaders; judges and magistrates; the public defender and commonwealth’s attorney; and mental health providers, consumers and advocates.
Sheriff Kincaid helped spearhead Diversion First, which has seen much success and will keep moving forward with a continued commitment of human and financial resources. However, not every person will be eligible for diversion based on their criminal charges.
Starting in 2014, well before Diversion First launched, Sheriff Kincaid made several changes in the Adult Detention Center to improve the circumstances for inmates with a mental illness.
- Women are now housed in a mental health unit comparable in style to what men already had before Sheriff Kincaid took office. Women had been housed in very small cells where there were no windows, and the lights were on 24/7. It was loud and harsh. The new unit is a more therapeutic environment, with larger cells that have windows to let in natural light. The cells all face a large day room.
- The male and female mental health units are located close to our jail-based Community Services Board (CSB) team that provides behavioral health services. The CSB clinicians now flex their time to include evenings, weekends and holidays because a mental health crisis is not limited to traditional business hours.
- Telepsychiatry is available in the ADC so we can remotely access a clinician around the clock for an emergency assessment.
- Sheriff Kincaid also changed the inmate release time for all inmates from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m., a time when transportation, shelter, medical care and other community resources are more readily available.
Since mid-2106, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Northern Virginia holds a support group six times per year at the ADC. The group is intended for families of adult children with mental illness who are now in jail or were previously in jail. Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Sheriff's deputies are available during the meetings to answer questions.
Mental illness will continue to be a challenge for our community at large and our criminal justice system, including the Sheriff’s Office. Change takes time, but we are well on our way to developing solutions that will serve as a model for jurisdictions across our nation.