Fairfax County, Virginia

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Diversion First Initiative Chosen for National Behavioral Health Institute

Following a highly competitive selection process, Fairfax County’s collaborative Diversion First program has been accepted into the Data Driven Justice and Behavioral Health Design Institute in Rockville, Maryland, Sept. 6-8, 2017.

The Design Institute advances the work of jurisdictions committed to meeting the needs of persons with complex physical health, behavioral health and social service needs while reducing unnecessary use of jails and high-cost emergency rooms. Nine Fairfax County community leaders will work with their peers from across the nation to address specific issues surrounding the complexities of diversion. The contingent will represent a cross section of first responders and human services. The Institute helps jurisdictions take the next step in planning and implementing data-sharing strategies to improve service delivery and health outcomes for individuals involved in the criminal justice system that have a multitude of complex physical and mental health and social service needs. Attendees will conduct hands-on exercises to develop action plans for their communities.

The Design Institute is jointly sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) and the National Association of Counties (NACo). The goal of the program is to provide information, tools and strategies needed to improve care for individuals and reduce costs. Specifically, the event is focused on teaching community leaders how to integrate data from various services sectors, as well as how to make efficient use of limited health, behavioral health, criminal justice and social support services and resources.

Diversion First Stakeholder Update

Diversion First, a local initiative that began in late 2015, works collaboratively to seek alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and co-occurring substance use disorders who come into contact with the criminal justice system for low level offenses. Public safety personnel, mental health clinicians, the courts and many others are working side by side to bring people in these situations to the Merrifield Crisis Response Center (MCRC) for assessment and referral to appropriate treatment or other needed supports, rather than having them spend time in jail for behavior that stems from their illness or disability.

Diversion First partner agencies include the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, Fairfax County Police Department, Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (which operates MCRC), Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, and Fairfax County Courts.

“While Fairfax County is still in the early stages of our diversion program, we have already become a reference point for other jurisdictions in the United States,” said Fairfax Sheriff Stacey Kincaid. “A primary reason we have come so far so fast is that we have 180 stakeholders, including law enforcement; mental health providers, advocates and consumers; county government leaders; defense attorneys and prosecutors; and magistrates and judges. We cannot and do not solve problems by operating in silos.”

The most recent quarterly Diversion First stakeholders meeting drew an audience of more than 70 to hear about the remarkable progress of this pioneering effort.

Highlights include: 

  • More than 25% of the county’s police force and 17% of sheriff’s deputies have received Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training to be able to recognize symptoms and behaviors associated with mental illness and other disabilities and de-escalate emergency situations on scene.
  • In its second year of operation, the Merrifield Crisis Response Center (MCRC) continues to be a key intercept point of Diversion First. Co-located with CSB’s emergency services at the Merrifield Center, the MCRC operates as an assessment site where police officers and sheriff’s deputies trained in crisis intervention are on duty to accept custody when a patrol officer brings in someone who is experiencing a crisis and needs a mental health assessment. The ability to transfer custody at the MCRC enables patrol officers to return quickly to their regular duties and facilitates the efficient provision of appropriate services for the individual in crisis. Thanks to additional funding provided for FY 2018, law enforcement personnel are now on duty 24/7 at the MCRC.  
  • From January through June 2017, law enforcement officers brought 939 people to the MCRC. Of those 939 individuals, 211 had potential criminal charges but were diverted from arrest to mental health services. The Board of Supervisors provided funding in FY 2017 that enabled CSB to hire additional emergency services staff to help support Diversion First.
  • CSB received a second year of state grant funding – for a two-year total of over $1 million -- for its Diversion First housing initiative. With its community partner, New Hope Housing, CSB is providing safe, stable housing – plus clinical supports – for individuals with mental illness who are at risk of homelessness and of coming into contact with the criminal justice system.
  • Our current focus is on strengthening courts efforts, including pretrial services and supervised release with an emphasis on leveraging mental health treatment when needed.

The community is reaping the benefits of this collaborative approach, which aims to prevent repeat encounters with the criminal justice system, improve public safety, promote a healthier community, save public dollars and – most importantly – help individuals who are in crisis recover and take control of their lives.

Fairfax Virtual Assistant