By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — Health and law enforcement professionals are increasingly recognizing the importance of innovative mental health jail diversion programs, working to implement them in their own counties with state and locally funds.
The Department of Health and Human Services will fund expansion of jail diversion efforts in January 2016 through Gov. Rick Snyder’s Mental Health Diversion Council. The program will award about $1.2 million in total to two new agency projects and current pilot projects.
Steven Mays, the diversion administrator at the department said, said this year’s program will be a little different from previous years’.
To give agencies enough support and time to establish their programs, the council will continue to fund existing projects instead of a large number of new ones, Mays said.
It will add only two new pilot projects funding for two years instead of one. The council will also work with a data evaluation team at Michigan State University to track the progress of the pilot programs.
“The main goal is to divert as many folks out of the jails as possible, and if they’re in jail, to intervene with them very quickly,” Mays said.
Programs geared toward jail staff would help them recognize signs of inmates’ mental health problems instead of punishing them for insubordination and extending their stay, Mays said.
He also said mentally ill inmates released from jail need treatment so they don’t suffer in the community or end up back behind bars.
Mental health courts are emerging as an important treatment and support resource for defendants with severe mental illnesses, developmental disabilities and substance abuse problems, said Heather Wiegand, access and corrections supervisor in jail diversion services at Health West in Muskegon.
Unique and relatively new to the state are juvenile mental health courts, which are part of the jail diversion services at Health West, Wiegand said.
In adult mental health courts, severe problems are schizophrenia, manic depression and bipolar disorder. Wiegand said juveniles admitted to the court are instead often diagnosed with having severe emotional disturbances.
For both adults and juveniles with mental illnesses, Wiegand said such specialized courts have an important impact on jail diversion.
“In adult courts, it is huge for people with severe mental illness who are offered treatment options versus being in the jail system,” Wiegand said. “With families, it provides the opportunity of being supported and swaying them away from the criminal justice system.”
In terms of resources for professionals, the nationally distinguished crisis intervention team (CIT) model is available in some counties including St. Joseph, Kalamazoo and Marquette. CIT programs train officials to work effectively with the mentally ill in crisis situations.
Terry Baker, the jail diversion director in the St. Joseph Sheriff’s Department, said after the initial staff training, the county developed its own program with instruction provided by local community health professionals and law enforcement officers.
Baker said that every situation is different, but CITs’ first job is to identify someone suffering from mental illness and then to find that person the right resources from health or social services.
“We wanted to improve our law enforcement and the community’s response when they’re responding to an individual with mental illness,” Baker said. “We’re working to reduce the number of individuals in jail and divert them to the health care system when it’s appropriate.”
Hermina Kramp, executive director of the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, said standards for working with mentally ill people are part of basic training for every law enforcement officer.
Kramp said some agencies or areas might provide more advanced training based on resources or funding. The commission’s own standards were first developed and implemented through training teams across the state.
“We developed and mandated the curriculum, worked with subject matter experts. We worked with law enforcement, prosecutors, service providers, the mental health community, survivors and victims to make a recommendation in terms of our approach,” Kramp said.
The executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, Terrence Jungel, said, that while some communities have programs that work with people with mental illnesses, the stigma surrounding mental illness needs to change to make progress in treatment.
“We treat mental health in our society as a chosen behavior. It’s no more a chosen behavior than cancer is,” Jungel said. “Mental health is an illness and if we begin to treat it as an illness, we’ll recognize it needs to be treated differently than a crime.”
By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN