Critical Issues - Jail Diversion Programs

From: Hospital and Community Psychiatry,Vol. 45, No. 11, November 1994

A National Survey of Jail Diversion Programs for Mentally Ill Detainees

Henry J. Steadman, Ph.D.
Sharon Steadman Barbera, B.A.
Deborah L. Dennis, M.A.

Abstract:

Objectives: The authors sought information on the number, structure, and effectiveness of programs aimed at diverting mentally ill inmates from the criminal justice system into the mental health treatment system.

Methods: A working definition of a jail diversion program was developed. Mail surveys were distributed to 1,263 U.S. jails with a capacity of 50 or more detainees to ascertain the presence or absence of diversion programs. Telephone interviews with samples of respondents and nonrespondents to the mail survey yielded additional information about the programs' operation, funding, staffing, and directors' perceptions of their effectiveness.

Results: Information obtained from the mail and telephone surveys indicated that only 52 U.S. jails with a capacity of 50 or more detainees had formal mental health diversion programs that fit the definition developed by the authors. Programs in larger jails served fewer violent felons than did those in smaller jails. Three-fourths of the programs were located in mental health agencies. Two-thirds of program directors considered the programs to be moderately or very effective.

Conclusions: Only a small number of U.S. jails have diversion programs for mentally ill detainees, and objective data on their effectiveness are lacking. Systematic evaluations are needed to determine what types of programs work best for which types of detainees.

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