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Washtenaw County has received a $1 million, four-year grant from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Administration to address high recidivism rates among individuals with mental health and substance use disorders to build on collaborative work between the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office and the Washtenaw County Community Mental Health agency.
For several years now, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office and Washtenaw County Community Mental Health agency have worked in partnership to better address the needs of incarcerated adults with mental health and substance use disorders and, whenever possible, to prevent more of these individuals from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.
This collaborative work has included training deputies in managing mental health crises, expanding jail-based mental health and substance use treatment services, and staffing interdisciplinary care coordination teams—including case managers, psychiatrists, corrections officers, and discharge planners—to help stabilize individuals while they are incarcerated and then plan for their successful discharge and community reentry.
Over the past year, with funding from Washtenaw County’s Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage, the Sheriff’s Office and Community Mental Health have extended this work by developing and facilitating a Mental Health Criminal Justice Diversion Advisory Council—a group of county stakeholders committed to developing a comprehensive, community-based diversion system for low-level, low-risk offenders suffering from severe mental health and substance use disorders.
This Diversion Council has recognized recidivism as a significant community challenge. In 2017 the recidivism rate for inmates with mental health and substance use disorders was 58 percent, compared to just 29 percent for the general population.
With this $1 million grant, the county will improve community reintegration efforts by hiring two new case managers to provide enhanced post-discharge support services, training case managers in the evidence-based MISSION model (Maintaining Independence and Sobriety through Systems Integration, Outreach, and Networking), working with BJA technical advisors to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the county’s current reentry support processes and to implement necessary improvements, staffing and training two full-time peer support specialists, and working with the Washtenaw Housing Alliance to provide supportive housing for 150 or more individuals in need over a two year period.
Stable housing is a key need, and often precursor for success, for individuals who are reentering the community from jail. While the WCSO has several referral mechanisms for post-release housing through Avalon Housing, Dawn Farm, Delonis Center, Home of New Vision, Housing Access of Washtenaw County, and Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, stable housing is never guaranteed upon release from jail. In fact, Washtenaw County has a severe shortage of available, affordable housing, with extremely long waitlists for vouchers and placement. For individuals who have been incarcerated, housing options are even more restricted due to ineligibilities related to incarceration and/or substance use and mental health issues, challenging navigation processes, and priority for families with children.
The new program will be led by a cross-disciplinary leadership team of:
Derrick Jackson, Community Engagement Director at the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office;
Renee Wilson, Director of Community Corrections, Correctional Services, and Reentry Services at the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office; and,
Lisa Gentz, Millage Initiatives, Mental Health Court, and Jail Services Program Administrator at Washtenaw County Community Mental Health.