Fairfax County continues to make substantial progress on a program called “Diversion First.” This program provides treatment instead of incarceration for people with mental health issues or developmental disabilities who come into contact with law enforcement for low-level offenses. With Diversion First, an officer can identify a suspect as needing supportive services, and can bring him or her to the Community Services Board (CSB) instead of making an arrest. Instead of making an arrest, officers bringing low-level offenders to the CSB saves the County money, time, and resources. Last year, 375 people were diverted from arrest into treatment- which represents a huge accomplishment. This is not the only opportunity for diversion, however. The County is now pursuing the next phase of the Diversion First program, with a focus on making diversions after this initial contact with law enforcement.
Imagine you or I were arrested for a low-level crime, such as trespassing or disorderly conduct, on a Saturday night. We may be held until Monday or Tuesday. We could then probably post a bond for a few hundred dollars and be released. People with mental illness or developmental disabilities, however, often have troubled employment histories, and do not have that money. They are often detained for months awaiting trial.
During this time, the County is paying approximately $200 per day to hold them, all while their mental state is deteriorating. By their next hearing date, these individuals have often spent as much or more time in jail awaiting their day in court than if they had been found guilty of the original charges, resulting in a release based on “time served.” They leave in a worse condition than when they entered. Eighty percent of the time, they will repeat their criminal behavior.
Diversion First breaks this cycle. It provides judges with a treatment alternative at the bonding hearing, when the judge can offer “supervised release” instead of bail. Supervised release requires mandatory treatment, with supervision by a trained probation officer. The person gets treatment and can recover. Then they can be released from criminal charges later if treatment is successful.
Studies show this treatment alternative can reduce the reoccurrence of criminal activity to as low as twenty percent. That means a sixty percent reduction in crime (from eighty percent to twenty) from this population. Literally hundreds of crimes can be prevented each year. With jail costing around $200 per day, and treatment only a few thousand dollars per year, over time the County will save significant funds.
This program is a win-win. Treatment improves lives. Crime will be reduced. Taxpayers will save long-term money. We must continue the progress of Diversion First by implementing these new avenues for diversion. This will allow the County to direct resources more efficiently, allow the Police to save time, and help people with disabilities improve their lives.