Three Counties Receive In-Depth Assistance to Improve Crisis and Diversion Strategies

October 19, 2022

The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP), administered by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance with technical assistance from the CSG Justice Center, facilitates collaboration among the criminal justice, juvenile justice, and mental health and substance use treatment systems to better serve people with mental illnesses and increase public safety. Among the opportunities offered through JMHCP in 2021 was the chance for three jurisdictions to receive intensive support to better understand how people with mental illnesses flow through their local criminal justice systems.  

Specifically, this support focused on identifying diversion and intervention strategies, particularly within law enforcement and crisis responses, to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses who are arrested and booked into jail. Of 84 jurisdictions that applied, the 3 local, cross-system teams selected were from Carlton County, Minnesota; Merrimack County, New Hampshire; and Tarrant County, Texas.  

Over 14 months, CSG Justice Center staff worked with these county teams to analyze their criminal justice and behavioral health data, conduct focus groups to understand systems and processes, and provide recommendations about how to build upon existing local efforts. The CSG Justice Center’s analysis and recommendations for each county were guided by the principles of Stepping Up, a national initiative reducing the overincarceration of people with mental illnesses.   


  • The Carlton County, Minnesota, team worked with the CSG Justice Center to identify two primary goals for their technical assistance project: (1) expanding the local diversion system and (2) exploring funding opportunities to support that expansion using the Financing the Future of Local Initiatives tool. Key recommendations included data-driven solutions for expanding pre- and post-arrest diversion to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses booked into the county jail and strategies to improve data collection and funding sustainability. Additionally, the CSG Justice Center recommended that Carlton County re-engage with culturally specific services to facilitate connections to care at discharge for American Indian people who are booked into jail. Due to its efforts that were already in place to collect and apply baseline data on the jail population with mental illnesses, Carlton County was named a Stepping Up Innovator County during this process.   


  • The project in Merrimack County, New Hampshire, explored (1) streamlining the flow of individuals with serious mental illnesses (SMI) from mental health screening at jail booking to connections with community-based service providers upon release and (2) making data-driven decisions to reduce recidivism among individuals with SMI. Recommendations included expanding connections to the robust array of community-based treatment options for individuals with SMI released from jail, reforming probation in ways that can reduce recidivism for people with SMI, and using data to track progress.  


  • In collaboration with the CSG Justice Center, Tarrant County, Texas, identified two primary goals for their technical assistance project: (1) inventorying resources and analyzing processes at the front end of the criminal justice system and (2) sustainability planning. Recommendations included strategies to improve cross-system collaboration in a large urban area, options for expanding pre-arrest diversion to reduce the number of people with SMI booked into the local jail, and addressing disparities in jail bookings for Black people. Tarrant County is in the process of applying to be a Stepping Up Innovator and is a recent recipient of a JMHCP grant to improve case management for people assigned to mental health court and reentry services. 


This type of specialized technical assistance is just one of the ways communities can receive support through JMHCP for system improvements at the intersection of criminal justice and behavioral health. Learn more about the opportunities and assistance offered through JMHCP 


Photo by Dan Formsma on Unsplash 

About the author

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Senior Policy Analyst, Behavioral Health
Marilyn Leake works on county-based initiatives focused on improving outcomes for people in the criminal justice system who have behavioral health disorders. Prior to joining the CSG Justice Center, Marilyn served as the coordinator for the mental health and drug
court programs in Prince George’s County, Maryland. In that role, she collaborated closely with local stakeholders throughout the criminal justice and behavioral health systems on diversion and other tactics to improve outcomes for people in the justice system with behavioral health disorders. She also worked on initiatives to standardize data collection and measurement strategies for treatment courts in Maryland. Marilyn holds a BS from Appalachian State University and an MSW from the University of Maryland.
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