A Jail Diversion Facility in Spokane? - Alliance leaders explore solutions to Mental Health & Public Safety
While much focus this last spring and summer has been on the Spokane Alliance’s Sick and Safe Leave work, another team has been diligently making progress: the Mental Health & Public Safety Team.
The team pulled together 18 months ago, specifically in response to the Spokane Alliance community’s concerns about hearing increased reports of the mentally ill being shot by police (our firefighters are many times called in as first responders in these cases) and seeing a rise in mentally ill participants in our churches’ emergency services.
Spokane Alliance leaders formed a research action team of 20 members from diverse institutions: church members, medical students, Fuse members, nurses and firefighters.
Delving into some of the reasons behind these incidents, they honed in on one, a vicious cycle: people who are having a mental health and or substance abuse crisis that commit a crime are often jailed. This jail stay can result in their Medicaid being cancelled. When they are let out of jail, there is a gap in their medical coverage. They don’t get treatment or medicine that they need for their condition and end up unstable and more likely to commit another crime.
The leaders also discovered a possible solution: jail diversion facilities. If someone commits a minor offence, they can voluntarily agree to go to such a facility and accept treatment for their condition in return for getting their criminal charges dropped.
The facilities have many advantages: They save public dollars, keeping people out of the costly and overcrowded legal and criminal justice systems. The facilities are better equipped to handle people in crisis allowing them to get stabilized in a therapeutic environment. Participants don’t lose access to Medicaid and are connected to treatment for their conditions.
Jail diversion facilities are being pioneered across the country and in Washington in Yakima and King County. The Mental Health and Public Safety Team even took a tour of the Yakima facility back in July.
So how do we get one in Spokane? The team has been busy building relationships with other stakeholders in the criminal justice system - judges, prosecutors, public defenders, elected officials, and non-profits. The current target is to work with these other entities to have the facility included in the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council’s MacArthur foundation grant application due at the end of this year.
Jim Dawson, FUSE, is the co-chair of the team. He shares his personal story of why he is involved:
“I’m tired of seeing people with mental health and substance use problems cycling through emergency rooms, the jail, and homeless on the street. We need to improve the system. My brother has struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues. His life fell apart and he ended up in both the emergency room and criminal justice system and I saw how difficult it was for him. When he got the support he needed and the treatment he needed he got better and is doing well now. When people get the care they need they can get better and have productive lives. Everyone deserves that basic chance.”
How can you help?
The Mental Health and Public Safety Team can always use new members - contact Jim Dawson to get involved.
Also: the team wants to hear your story! Do you have a family member or friend who has been touched by this issue? Share it with the team.