By Angela Woolsey
Fairfax County’s Diversion First initiative will be included in a national Data Driven Justice and Behavioral Health Design Institute scheduled to take place in Rockville, Md., from Sept. 6 through Sept. 8.
Hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in partnership with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) and the National Association of Counties (NACo), the design institute involves community leaders from across jurisdictions sharing data, information, and strategies for delivering social and behavioral health services.
A group of nine first responders and human services personnel from Fairfax County will attend the event to present their work with Division First, a program that provides treatment to people with mental health or substance abuse issues instead of putting them in jail if they encounter law enforcement for low-level offenses.
“I was really excited that we were going to be included in this new data-driven project,” Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB) deputy director Daryl Washington said. “[I’m] really looking forward to being able to show some of the results that we’ve been able to do thus far under Diversion First and also learning from other jurisdictions that are implementing similar programs across the nation.”
The CSB offers services related to mental health, substance use disorders, and developmental disabilities through the Merrifield Center in Fairfax, where it operates the Merrifield Crisis Response Center that launched on Jan. 1, 2016 as part of Diversion First.
Washington is one of three CSB personnel scheduled to attend the design institute, including director of partnership and resource development Laura Yager and a staff member from the organization’s data team.
The Data Driven Justice and Behavioral Health Design Institute is part of a Data-Driven Justice (DDJ) Initiative launched on June 30, 2016 by then-President Barack Obama with the goal of “disrupting the cycle of incarceration,” according to a White House fact sheet on the initiative.
In its announcement of the DDJ Initiative, the White House notes that more than 11 million people occupy 3,100 local jails around the U.S., costing local governments approximately $22 billion annually. Many of those individuals have been incarcerated on low-level, non-violent offenses, and more than 60 percent have a mental illness or substance abuse disorder.
According to the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, mental health issues affect more than 40 percent of the inmates at the county’s adult detention center.
The 2015 Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission recommended that Fairfax County develop an oversight mechanism for mental health, substance use, and justice services in its final report released on Oct. 8, 2015.
In June 2015, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution supporting the Stepping Up Initiative, a national effort led by NACo, the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation aimed at reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in jails.