Jail Diversion Initiatives

Jail Diversion Initiatives

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services supports a variety of Jail Diversion initiatives, all of which reside in the Office of Forensic Services. Jail Diversion initiatives come in a variety of forms, but all essentially strive to identify individuals diagnosed with serious mental illnesses (SMI) and co-occurring disorders (early identification), divert individuals away from the criminal justice system (or penetrating more deeply, if identified after arrest/incarceration), and connect individuals to meaningful services and treatment (as early as possible, but often during initial court appearance,  during incarceration, or upon release from jail).   

History of Jail Diversion Initiatives in Virginia:

In Virginia, statewide Jail Diversion efforts began in 2007 when the Virginia General Assembly approved funding to promote the diversion of persons with mental illness from unnecessary involvement with the criminal justice system. The Department was given the responsibility for oversight of those funds, and seven (7) Community Services Boards (CSBs) were awarded funding for the purpose of Jail Diversion and forensic discharge planning.

Jail Diversion gained further momentum with the 2008 signing of Executive Order 62 by Governor Timothy M. Kaine. This order established the Commonwealth Consortium for Mental Health/Criminal Justice Transformation. The Consortium was tasked with the development of a comprehensive approach to address the challenging needs of individuals with mental illness in the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system. Under the leadership of the Secretaries of Health and Human Resources and Public Safety, the Consortium hosted two statewide meetings and saw the development of multiple programs and processes for creating positive systems change.

In May 2008 the Governor’s Conference for Mental Health and Criminal Justice Transformation was convened, with a goal of assisting localities with initiating or furthering their community planning for Jail Diversion and improved services. The model soon after adopted by the Commonwealth’s Jail Diversion Initiatives was the Sequential Intercept Model. Developed in 2006 by Dr. Mark Munetz and Dr. Patricia Griffin, this model provided a conceptual framework for communities to organize targeted strategies for justice-involved individuals with serious mental illness. This conference also paved the way for the Cross-Systems Mapping Initiative, in which key players from the CSBs, DBHDS, Community Corrections and the Department of Criminal Justice Services were trained to help communities “map” how the mental health and criminal justice systems coincide.

In 2008 the General Assembly approved funding for the continuation and expansion of Jail Diversion services. The Department is responsible for administering and overseeing these grants, which were awarded to ten (10) CSBs in December 2008. That same year, the General Assembly also awarded funding for the statewide expansion of Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), a 40-hour training that enables law enforcement officers to more effectively communicate with and understand the particular needs of individuals with mental illness. Eight (8) CIT programs were funded as a result, allowing for the growth of CIT throughout the Commonwealth.

Since that time, programs have continued to expand. In 2014, three (3) one-time jail diversion grants were awarded by the Department to CSBs to enhance or initiate new diversion programs. Additionally, CIT has continued to grow with the establishment of additional funding for new CIT training programs and CIT Assessment Sites, which provide a therapeutic location for assessment and evaluation, and aim to decrease the use of arrest and detention of persons with mental health or substance use disorders by providing timely access to treatment.

The need for these services remains clear – in a 2014 survey of Virginia jails, 13.95% of inmates were identified as having a mental illness and 53.76% of those were diagnosed with a serious mental illness, which includes diagnoses such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Findings also suggest that persons with mental illness are far too often subject to arrest and incarceration in Virginia for minor “nuisance” offenses related to their symptoms, and that many jail inmates with mental illness do not receive adequate mental health treatment in our jails, or when they return to the community. The Department remains committed to pursuing strategies for the diversion of persons with serious mental illness from jail into treatment whenever appropriate.

Cross-Systems Mapping Initiative:  

Cross-Systems Mapping is a dynamic exercise developed to bring stakeholders from both mental health and criminal justice systems to the table with the goal of transforming fragmented systems into a system that makes sense to the people who use it. It is essentially a process for identifying gaps in services, reducing duplication of efforts, and creating an action plan with attainable goals and specific steps to improve services in communities across Virginia.

Based upon the Sequential Intercept Model that was developed by Dr. Mark Munetz and Dr. Patricia Griffin, the mapping exercise is used as a tool for identifying gaps and needs in the system, and for prioritized action planning to improve access to services for justice-involved individuals with serious mental illness. Since the mapping initiative began in 2009, 40 two-day mappings have been completed with over 1400 mental health and criminal justice stakeholders present and spanning 98 of 134 Virginia localities. This means that 89% of the entire population of Virginia lives in “mapped” communities.

For a listing of localities that have participated in Cross-Systems Mapping as well as an outline of identified gaps and priorities that came from these mappings, click here for the Cross-Systems Mapping Final Report. The Department continues its efforts to assist communities in this initiative with the hope that communities may continue to enhance mental health/criminal justice collaboration and diversion efforts.

Jail Diversion Programs: 

In 2007 the Virginia General Assembly approved funding to promote the diversion of persons with mental illness from unnecessary involvement with the criminal justice system. As a result, seven (7) Community Services Boards (CSBs) were awarded funding for the purpose of Jail Diversion and forensic discharge planning. However, it wasn’t until 2008 when the Governor’s Conference for Mental Health and Criminal Justice Transformation was convened that programs throughout the state began to operate from the framework of the Sequential Intercept Model. In that same year, the Department received additional funding to expand jail diversion initiatives in the Commonwealth. With this new funding, the Department was able to support an additional ten (10) CSBs for an array of programmatic activity along the Sequential Intercept Model. In 2014, three (3) one-time grants were awarded to further expand criminal justice diversion options.

It should be noted that many localities throughout Virginia offer services that target this vulnerable population, without the benefit of additional funding from the Department. In some cases Community Services Boards provide jail-based mental health and re-entry planning services, while other localities have established specialty courts or mental health dockets as a means of better identifying and diverting this population to the appropriate community services. The Department is invested in helping to establish and expand diversion initiatives whenever possible, and is available to provide resources and assistance to all Virginia localities whether or not they are the recipient of Department funding.