As a kid I loved playing with Legos. The way they felt and sounded when I snapped them together, block after block, was always fun. Even more so was when my work was done and I would behold my latest creation. It was exciting to see how it turned out—unless that is, I was missing a piece or two. In those cases, I would look at what I had built and know it wasn’t right until I could find the right blocks to finish it.
Just as with some of my Lego creations, our nation’s criminal justice system has been missing a few blocks, two of which snap on the very front of our criminal justice system. The first piece, called pre-arrest diversion, is uniquely important because it is the only block that can control—decrease or increase—the entry of people into our justice system. Pre-arrest diversion is the connection between law enforcement and treatment, and is done when a person is diverted away from the justice system and into the behavioral health system instead. Pre-arrest diversion goes by many names including QRT, CIT, Angel, Crisis Centers, DART, STEER, Co-Responders, Civil Citation, and LEAD to name just a few of the many emerging variations.
To get a sense of the potential impact of pre-arrest diversion efforts, consider that there are 800,000 law enforcement officers in the nation who encounter an estimated 68,000,000 people every year, many of whom have substance-use disorders and/or mental health challenges. Prior to pre-arrest diversion the officers’ only two choices were to arrest a person or to release them. Now, with pre-arrest diversion, a third option becomes available to law enforcement—to safely divert an individual to community-based behavioral health for treatment and recovery. As pre-arrest diversion continues to rapidly grow, it has the potential to become the largest referral source to community treatment in the history of the justice system, thereby reshaping both the justice system as well as the treatment system.
Of course, as with all Legos, it takes more than a single block to make a creation, and this is where commonsense bail reform blocks are brought into play. Bail reform is the next , crucial block snapped on right next to pretrial diversion. This block can rapidly influence in a positive way, or conversely a bad way, what happens to a person next. In as little as three days, a person detained in jail may lose their jobs which will result in destabilization of home and family, making life more difficult for them when they do get out. Conversely, a person that poses a risk so great that no condition or combination of conditions can help can often just post bond and walk out.
Taken together, pre-arrest diversion and bail reform help us snap on the blocks that make the justice system closer to being more just and more effective. Through national collaborative efforts such as the Police, Treatment, and Community (PTAC) Collaborative, these two efforts are working together on a shared mission of reducing arrests that result in entry into the justice system when public safety is best served by rapidly getting people into community-based behavioral health treatment. The Inaugural PTAC Pre-Arrest Diversion Conference is coming up on March 4-7, 2018. For more information about the conference go to http://www.axissummit.com/ptac-event/. For more information about PTAC, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, what does your local criminal justice system look like? Is it missing pre-arrest diversion and commonsense bail policies ? If so, pick up those two blocks and start building!