Leading the Movement Toward Diversion as a First Response: Building Connections to Treatment at the Front End of the Justice System

Below is an excerpt from TASC’s semi-annual News & Views. The current issue includes articles on pre-arrest, prosecutorial, and jail release interventions for people who have substance use and mental health conditions.

(Chicago) — A recent criminal justice trend is gaining traction. It has potential not only to help curb the devastation that the opioid epidemic is causing in communities across the nation, but also to bring law enforcement, treatment providers, and communities together to solve common challenges that substance use and mental health disorders pose.

It’s known as pre-arrest diversion. Other terms include front-end diversion, deflection, and pre-booking diversion. Regardless of terminology, the goal is the same: to divert eligible individuals with substance use and mental health disorders to treatment before logging an arrest.

“We know from decades of research and experience that formal connections to treatment can improve access and outcomes,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. Lessons learned from prosecutorial diversion programs, court intervention programs, and reentry programs can, and should, be applied even earlier in the justice system.”

The first point of entry into the justice system—and thus the earliest opportunity for justice diversion—is law enforcement.

“For most people who are manifesting substance use and mental health disorders, there are better alternatives than arrest,” said Rodriguez. “Through our work with partners across the country, we hope to make it easier for law enforcement officers to connect people to treatment.”

Building Police-Treatment-Community Partnerships

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2000 to 2015, nearly half a million people died from a drug overdose, and since then, mortality rates have climbed precipitously, with a record 64,000 people having lost their lives to overdose in 2016.

Often at the front line of these tragedies, local law enforcement agencies are seeking new ways to better serve and protect communities confronting the consequences of substance use disorders, especially as police frequently interact with individuals affected by addiction and/or overdose. Pre-booking or pre-arrest diversion strategies can help reduce drug use, promote public safety, and save lives.

In March, the Center for Health and Justice at TASC partnered with the Civil Citation Network to convene the first-ever national summit focused on pre-arrest diversion. Criminal justice, behavioral health, and public policy experts from across the country gathered at the headquarters of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in Alexandria, Virginia, for two days of information sharing and planning.

From this meeting emerged the Police, Treatment and Community Collaborative (“PTAC Collaborative”), the first national effort to build a multi-disciplinary approach that ensures law enforcement, treatment professionals, and community members collaborate as equal partners to widen community behavioral health and social service options available through law enforcement diversion.

Working through the PTAC Collaborative, IACP and TASC have come together to promote alternative-to-arrest diversion programs for state, county, and local law enforcement agencies across the United States. This collaboration seeks to greatly improve the means, ease, and speed with which law enforcement can partner with substance use and mental health treatment providers so that police can help people access treatment.

Read more about TASC’s partnership with IACP and the PTAC Collaborative to advance pre-arrest diversion.

Save the date for the inaugural PTAC Collaborative conference March 4-7, 2018 in Ponte Vedra, Florida.

Browse additional stories in the current issue of TASC News & Views, including frameworks for pre-arrest diversion (p. 5), prosecutorial diversion in Illinois (p. 6), and the new Supportive Release Center in Cook County, Illinois, where TASC and partners provide intervention and service linkages at the critical point of release from jail (p. 7).

Also in this issue:

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