(Alexandria, VA) – Criminal justice, behavioral health, and public policy experts from across the country convened on March 1-2 for the first-ever national summit focused on strategies to deflect people with drug problems and/or low-level offenses away from the justice system before they enter it, and into behavioral health services instead.
Participants tweeted with the hashtag #Deflection2017, including a concise summary of the event from the Pretrial Justice Institute: “Big ideas. Big partners. Big conversation. #Deflection2017.”
Police, prosecutors, treatment/clinical experts, researchers, and representatives from national law enforcement and behavioral health associations discussed alternatives to arrest for low-level offenses, as well as new methods for confronting the opioid crisis and addiction, focusing on treatment-based solutions through which police can partner with behavioral health service providers in the community.
Hosted in Alexandria by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the two-day 2017 Deflection Summit was convened by the Center for Health and Justice at TASC and the Civil Citation Network. The summit was sponsored by C4 Recovery Solutions, IACP, and Ad Care Criminal Justice Services.
Pre-booking or pre-arrest diversion initiatives—also called deflection—offer practical strategies for reforming the front end of the criminal justice system and preventing cycles of arrest and incarceration of people with treatable substance use or mental health issues.
Depending on local community needs and behavioral health capacity, police deflection programs across the country have varying designs, but their goals are consistent: to continue to promote and enhance public safety while also responding more effectively to substance use and mental health problems, and to low-level offenses. These solutions help reverse the tide of people with nonviolent offenses entering the justice system.
In his March 2017 article in Police Chief Magazine, Jac Charlier, who directs national justice initiatives for the Chicago-based Center for Health and Justice at TASC, describes a number of deflection models currently in place throughout the country, including programs within the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative (PAARI) network; Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD); Baltimore’s Stop, Triage, Educate, Engage, Rehabilitate (STEER) program; citation in lieu of arrest; and drug overdose response teams, such as Lucas County, Ohio’s Drug Action Response Team (DART). Each of these programs, along with several others, brought forth their direct experience and insights at the deflection summit.
“Even a first-time arrest for a misdemeanor offense can end up having lifelong consequences, especially in employment,” said Greg Frost, president of the Tallahassee-based Civil Citation Network, a program offering counseling, education, and community service in lieu of arrest. “If people complete our program successfully, they can avoid an arrest record and the negative consequences that go with it.”
Robert Ryberg, CEO of C4 Recovery Solutions, an international not-for-profit working in substance use and addiction, explained, “Deflection is a key strategy for helping individuals access treatment services, especially those who have not yet self-identified as needing treatment and who are pursuing life strategies that often result in criminal activity. ”
“Police crisis intervention models for responding to mental health emergencies have been successful for many years, and deflection initiatives build from that experience,” added TASC’s Charlier. “Deflection programs are specifically designed to prevent people from going into the justice system when they can safely instead be connected directly to treatment services in the community. It’s a win-win for better safety in the community, for law enforcement, and for the people who get the help they need.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 144 Americans die every day from a drug overdose, including 91 from an opioid overdose.
“Especially in this time as our nation faces the opioid epidemic, we can save lives by deflecting people to treatment,” said Charlier.