Critical Issues - Jail Diversion Programs

From: The National GAINS Center newsletter, Fall 1999

Blending Funds To Pay For Criminal Justice Diversion Programs For People With Co-Occurring Disorders

David Wertheimer
Systems Integration Administrator for the King County Department of Community and Human Services

Categorical and rigid federal and state funding streams present some of the greatest barriers to the essential integration of services for persons with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders involved in the criminal justice system. Categorical funding targets dollars to specific populations, providers and services. Conversely, an integrated approach to providing and funding services is necessary for persons with co-occurring disorders being diverted from incarceration.

It is largely futile, however, to change categorical state and federal funding practices from a local setting. Instead, as a number of U.S. communities have proven, it is more productive to devise ways to blend the various funding streams at the local program level. Kina County, Washington State (Seattle) is one community that has been able to blend funds from five distinct state and local funding streams to support integrated services for criminal justice diversion programming. It offers a special example of how this can be done.

Finding Support for Diversion Initiatives

The Current human service environment is hardly conducive to funding expensive jail diversion and systems integration projects. Typically taxpayer sentiment has supported increased expenditures of limited public resources to build and fill more jails rather than to provide community-based treatment and supports for people who otherwise could be safely maintained in the community. A further complication is the emergence of managed behavioral health care in the public sector.

No single system can pay for the array of diversion services needed to effectively interrupt the cycle of repeated arrest and incarceration for persons with co-occurring disorders. When one or another system is pressured to identify diversion resources on its own, each system usually pleads poverty to its sister systems, and the game of bureaucratic ping-pong begins. To develop the necessary range of services for the diversion programming. each system must bring to the table the resources they can make available for shared efforts.

"Resources" are not limited to actual dollars, but also include staff time, space and the commitment to change policies and practices that prevent integration and effective diversion programs.

For a complete copy of this document, contact the National GAINS Center at 1-800-311-4246 or e-mail

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