By Prince William Times Staff
More than 90 percent of people who are in jail will eventually be released, according to the Prince William County Office of Criminal Justice Services, or OCJS. The question is, then what? Thanks in part to the OCJS, providing certain services can help them succeed once they are released. These services range from the time people enter the criminal justice system until they are set to return to the community; and they all play a critical role in doing what’s best for the person and the community.
According to Steve Austin, Prince William County’s director of OCJS, one such service is a pretrial release program called Diversion Intercepts for Varied Emergency Responses and Treatment, or DIVERT. This program involves a team that includes judges, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, the defense attorney, treatment professionals and pretrial probation officers that helps people with serious mental illness stay out of jail as they await trial.
“We get them assessed by a mental health professional through Community Services. If they are eligible, they are then diverted from the jail after their arrest and they get treatment pending trial,” Austin said. “We like to divert them as soon as possible. It’s a rapid process that assesses people quickly and gets them diverted from the jail as quickly as possible. It’s not good for people with mental illness to be in jail for a long period of time if they don’t have to be.”