Criminal justice diversion

For several years prior to the passage of the Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) and the Washtenaw County Community Mental Health agency (WCCMH) worked in partnership to serve the growing population of incarcerated adults with mental health and substance use disorders and to prevent more of these individuals from entering the criminal justice system in the first place. This work entailed managing mental health crisis trainings for county and city deputies; jail-based mental health service expansions, and care coordination initiatives to stabilize individuals while they are incarcerated and prepare for their successful discharge and community reentry. 

WCCMH staff also participate in the WCSO’s Mental Health Criminal Justice Diversion Advisory Council—a group of county stakeholders focused on developing a comprehensive, community-based diversion system for low-level, low-risk offenders suffering from severe mental health or substance use disorders. This Diversion Council includes elected officials, educators, individuals with lived experience, and local leaders with expertise in mental health, substance use disorders, and the county’s adult and juvenile justice and corrections systems.

With millage resources that became available in January of 2019, WCCMH began work to build on these efforts through: 

  • Training. The two-day, evidence-based Managing Mental Health Crisis training will be extended to all officers, in all police agencies across the county, in 2019. A new training program will be offered to corrections officers, with a focus on evidence-based methods for humane management of inmates with mental health disorders.
  • De-escalation. To reinforce the goals of de-escalation and peaceful resolution of conflict, WCCMH staff will be officially integrated into the county’s Crisis Negotiations Team, part of its Special Threats Response Unit. In addition, the county will develop and launch a multi-disciplinary Crisis Intervention Team specially trained to respond to critical public safety events involving persons with mental health and substance use disorders.
  • Diversion. In the spring of 2020, WCCMH opened a new mental health observation location for all Washtenaw County residents. Adjacent to the existing WCCMH offices in Ypsilanti, this location is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. In a comfortable setting, this facility serves up to five individuals who require additional assessment, observation, and discharge support, helping to divert individuals from the criminal justice system. 
  • Treatment. A new mental health unit is being planned for the jail to house inmates with severe mental health illnesses. A therapeutic community housing unit, it will provide specialized, intensive mental health treatment and coordinated programs for those who previously could not receive standard jail-based services.
  • Reentry. The jail-based Community Mental Health services team will continue to provide discharge planning for inmates, but will develop new community partnerships and collaborations to expand post-discharge support in an effort to reduce recidivism and support successful community reentry.

Image of two arrows on a road--one is barely visible and the other turns to the leftCommunity Diversion Partners

These diversion activities--including enhanced mental health and substance use disorder assessment and treatment in the jail; criminal justice diversion options for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders; and expanded education and support for first responders--were designed and implemented in collaboration with community partners:

  • Ann Arbor Police Department
  • Community Mental Health Partnership of Southeast Michigan
  • Dawn Farm
  • Home of New Vision
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness - Washtenaw County
  • Office of Economic and Community Development
  • Office of the Prosecuting Attorney
  • Office of the Public Defender
  • Ozone House
  • Washtenaw County Children’s Services 
  • Washtenaw County District and Trial Courts
  • Washtenaw County Juvenile Court
  • Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office
  • Wayne State University Center for Behavioral Health and Justice
  • Ypsilanti Police Department

Diversion Council

In 2018, the Diversion Council gathered and analyzed data from both WCSO and WCCMH that showed stark disparities between the general inmate population and the population with mental health and substance use disorders. Using this data as a baseline, the council established objectives for future work including:

  • Prevalence. Reduce the number of county inmates with mental health and substance use disorders: This rate increased from 24 percent in 2015 to 29 percent in 2017.
  • Recidivism. Reduce the recidivism rate for inmates with mental health and substance use disorders: This rate was 58 percent in 2017, compared to just 29 percent for the general population.
  • Length of stay. Reduce the average length of stay for inmates with mental health and substance use disorders: This rate was 27 days on average, compared to just 11 days for the general population.

In addition, the Diversion Council data showed that racial and economic disparities are prevalent throughout the correction system. The council chose to work to diminish these disparities by enhancing prevention, treatment, and support services for all individuals with mental health and substance use disorders.