As Massachusetts considers a sweeping criminal justice bill, it is imperative that legislators take into consideration evidence-based programs that are successfully diverting individuals with mental health and substance abuse conditions from the criminal justice system and preventing recidivism.
Individuals with behavioral health conditions are vastly overrepresented in the Massachusetts criminal justice system, and at every stage of the judicial process, at great cost to the Commonwealth. More than 53 percent of individuals incarcerated in Massachusetts prisons and jails have been previously diagnosed with a behavioral health condition. The cost of treating just those with serious mental illness, nearly 3,000 prisoners, is upwards of $300 million annually. Yet most of these imprisoned individuals do not receive proper treatment for the severity of their disease, and many are repeatedly and chronically involved in our criminal justice system.
If these problems are addressed, the Commonwealth could save millions of dollars and improve the lives of thousands of its citizens.
There are proven ways to interrupt the cycle of recidivism among this population and even prevent individuals struggling with behavioral health conditions from entering the system in the first place. Evidence-based programs from across the country — including several here in Massachusetts — implement interventions at specific inflection points that have shown significant success at improving criminal diversion, community re-entry, and recidivism rates.
For example, pre-arrest diversion has been shown to be successful when law enforcement and mental health professionals respond together to identified behavioral health emergencies. Often called Crisis Intervention Teams (CITs), these teams receive training that focuses on de-escalation and redirection to mental health treatment services. In Bexar County, Texas, the CIT teams have access to a 24-hour Crisis Care Center which treats individuals within an hour of arrival, saving $2.4 million in jail costs tied to public intoxication, $1.5 million in mental health services, and $1 million in emergency room costs. A similar program in Minneapolis saved $2.16 for every dollar spent on its triage center, and one in Salt Lake City led to a 90 percent decrease in ER visits by patients with psychiatric conditions.
Here in Massachusetts, the National Association of Mental Illness-Massachusetts Criminal Justice Diversion Project (CJDP) works to prevent the unnecessary arrest and detention of individuals with mental illness. The CJDP achieves this goal by supporting and educating police departments and other first responders in engaging with individuals experiencing mental health crisis, and fostering connections between law enforcement, behavioral health providers, and other community stakeholders.
Through police education and support programs, CJDP has diverted some 200 individuals from the criminal justice system at a savings of $1.3 million in ER and jail-related costs. Massachusetts’ hospitals and emergency departments could benefit from the relief of those presenting with behavioral health conditions, and these individuals would certainly benefit from more appropriate care and avoiding incarceration.
The Massachusetts criminal justice reform legislation is rightfully focused on the reduction of recidivism, but we cannot discuss recidivism reduction without discussing issues of mental health, nor can we focus on recidivism reduction without the proper investment in criminal diversion. The best way to keep from reoffending is to not have been incarcerated in the first place.
Massachusetts cannot afford to be pennywise and pound foolish; programs such as the Crisis Care Center and the Criminal Justice Diversion Project are worth the return on investment. It is our hope that legislators take these into consideration as they move through the reform process.
Cheri Andes is Executive Director of NAMI-Massachusetts.
DMH will host its annual series of Citizens Legislative Breakfasts in the coming months. This is an opportunity for members of the mental health community to meet with their legislators, thank them for their support and discuss how DMH helps people with mental illnesses recover and live satisfying lives in communities of their choice. It is also an opportunity for consumers and family members to share good news and success stories about their life experiences.
The State House events start with registration and refreshments from 9:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. and the program starts promptly at 10:00 a.m. and runs until approximately 11:00 a.m.
Wednesday, February 7, Metro Boston Area Citizens Legislative Breakfast
(Great Hall, State House)
Sen. Joseph Boncore
Rep. Daniel Ryan
Thursday, February 8, Southeast Area Citizens Legislative Breakfast
(Great Hall, State House)
Sen. Marc Pacheco
Rep. James Cantwell
Friday, March 2, Central Mass Area Citizens Legislative Breakfast
(Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital, Large Conf. Room, K2-A2)
Sen. President Harriette Chandler
Rep. David Muradian
Friday, March 9, Western Mass Area Citizens Legislative Breakfast
(Springfield Technical Community College, Scibelli Hall)
Sen. Stanley Rosenberg
Rep. Peter Kocot
Wednesday, March 14, Northeast Area Citizens Legislative Breakfast
(Great Hall, State House)
Sen. Joan Lovely
Rep. Bradford Hill
At the direction of Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) Secretary Marylou Sudders, the Department of Mental Health (DMH), together with Office of MassHealth (MassHealth) and the Department of Public Health (DPH), in partnership with the Division of Insurance (DOI), convened a task force to develop expedited psychiatric inpatient admission interventions available for all individuals boarding in Emergency Departments (EDs) for extended periods of time.
Presentations and listening sessions pertaining to the new policy are being held statewide and online. These sessions are open to the public and while registration is not required, we ask that you do register for the meeting(s) you plan to attend at the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/expedadmis2018
Tuesday, January 16, 1:00-3:00
581 Faunce Corner Road, Dartmouth, MA 02747 (Directions)
Gymnasium, located near rear of building with its own entrance (look for the signs)
Wednesday, January 17, 10:00-12:00
Whitney Avenue Conference Center
361 Whitney Avenue Holyoke, MA 01040 (Directions)
Tuesday, January 23, 1:00-3:00
Department of Mental Health Central Office – Boston Room, Main Entrance, Plaza Level
25 Staniford Street, Boston (Directions)
Wednesday, January 24, 10:00-12:00
Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association – First Floor Conference Room
500 District Ave, Burlington (Directions)
Tuesday, January 30, 1:00-3:00
(Register Here and instructions for participation will be sent to you)
Wednesday, January 31, 10:00-12:00
University of Massachusetts Medical School – Board Room at Biotech 1
365 Plantation Street, Suite 300, Worcester (Directions)