Alternate Drop-Off Locations for Individuals with Serious Mental Illness

Policy Brief | March 2020

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The Michigan Mental Health Diversion Council (MMHDC) and Wayne State's Center for Behavioral Health and Justice (CBHJ) recommend that each county identify alternative locations to divert individuals with symptoms of serious mental health issues from jail.

Quick Facts:

  • In 2019, 23% of individuals booked into a sample of ten MI county jails were identified as having a mental health concern by standardized screening.
  • Rural jails in Michigan have a significantly higher prevalence (34% vs. 23%) of individuals with mental health concerns.
  • In one metropolitan county, there were 919 documented unique incidents involving interaction between an individual with a mental health concern and a law enforcement officer over the course of a single year.
  • Officers trained in mental health and/or crisis intervention are significantly more likely to utilize alternative drop-off locations.

Background:

Law enforcement officers are dispatched to a high volume of calls (such as nuisance, misdemeanor, and public welfare calls) which involve an individual exhibiting symptoms of serious mental illness. However, officers may face limitations on the time they can spend at one particular call because it is crucial that officers can be dispatched to the next emergency as quickly as possible. Officer training for effective response to behavioral health crises* helps officers respond to mental health calls efficiently and identify mental health crises that may not be identified at dispatch. Officer training is most effectively implemented when communities offer options for officers to transport individuals in crisis.

Often, jail is the only option for officers to take an individual in crisis who needs to be transported from an emergency scene—the majority of communities in Michigan have no viable alternative drop-off sites available to law enforcement. Hospitals and emergency rooms frequently have wait times that are too long for officer drop-off, and community mental health agencies may not have the resources to provide 24-hour critical care. These issues are pronounced in rural communities, where rural jails have been found to have a significantly higher prevalence of individuals with symptoms of serious mental illness. This lack of viable alternatives to jail incarceration hinders opportunities for diversion from jail for individuals with symptoms of serious mental health issues.

Possible Alternatives:

Alternatives to incarceration may take the form of shelter and other services that would allow officers options based on perceived threat to public safety. Each county should work with relevant stakeholders (CMH, local and county law enforcement), to develop alternatives that will result in more access to services, as well as diversion from jail. These alternatives are particularly important in rural communities facing a higher prevalence of serious mental illness. Models of alternative locations for diversion from jail are being utilized and developed across the state and country.

For example:

  • Crisis Centers (such as Common Ground (Oakland County), Team Wellness (Wayne and COPE (Wayne County) provide 24-hr access for law enforcement to facilitate crisis drop-offs that take ten minutes or less.
  • Special arrangements with emergency departments can mitigate emergency room wait times.
  • Diversion Rooms in county jails present a dedicated space inside jail facilities for individuals to be transported separate from being booked into the jail as tool to deflect those with mental health issues from confinement. While some counties utilize this strategy, some are concerned about the use of jails for this purpose.
  • Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams have been developed and implemented across the country for on the scene response, which can result in de-escalation and more rapid referral to ongoing treatment (does not include a physical space for officer transport).
  • 24-hour phone access to CMH staff allows officers to access support in mental health crisis intervention (does not include a physical space for officer transport).