Behavioral Health Diversion Interventions: Moving from Individual Programs to a Systems-Wide Strategy

Developed with funding support from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, this policy brief describes key components to developing a systems-wide diversion strategy and focuses on the fundamental agencies within the criminal justice system that can lead the implementation of diversion interventions, with the goal of diverting people with mental illness from the justice system and into community-based treatment and support services. The brief was also prompted, and guided, through work with Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program grantees.

Sheila Tillman, Sarah Wurzburg, and Hallie Fader-Towe | November 2019 | The Council of State Governments Justice Center

A growing number of communities have been implementing behavioral health diversion programs as alternatives to conventional criminal justice case processing and incarceration. However, these have often largely been kept to individual, or one-off, recognizable programs that are insufficient for meeting the needs of the community and reducing the over-representation of people who have behavioral health needs in the criminal justice system. The Council of State Governments Justice Center released Behavioral Health Diversion Interventions: Moving from Individual Programs to a Systems-Wide Strategy to provide communities across the country with a conceptual framework for creating a continuum of diversion opportunities that span the community’s criminal justice system.

While this brief provides local leaders with a systems-level conceptual framework—starting from first contact with law enforcement through incarceration—community’s must still prioritize their efforts based on their specific needs. For some jurisdictions, this might mean investing in jail-based diversion or court-based diversion first. With that in mind, the CSG Justice Center released two complementary fact sheets—A Look into Jail-Based Behavioral Health Diversion Interventions and A Look into Court-Based Behavioral Health Diversion Interventions— that answer common questions about the purpose of each type of intervention, what partners are needed to implement it, and what best practices are being used across the country.

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