Policing Alternatives: Effective Solutions to Mass Incarceration

With almost 2 million people incarcerated in the United States, it’s safe to say that we have a mass incarceration problem. This problem is costly (both in terms of dollars and human lives) and ineffective; researchers have found that incarceration does little to deter crime. This article focuses on reducing mass incarceration through policing alternatives

So, what can be done to reduce our prison population without sacrificing public safety? Three potential solutions include jail diversion programs, co-responder programs, and crisis intervention teams.

What are Jail Diversion Programs?

There are many jail diversion programs, but they all share a common goal: to keep people out of the criminal justice system. Some programs focus on specific populations, like juveniles or people with mental illness. Others target specific crimes, like drug offenses or domestic violence. And still, others provide a range of services to meet the needs of the participants. Regardless of the aim, jail diversion programs can be effective policing alternatives.

How Do Jail Diversion Programs Work as Policing Alternatives?

Jail diversion programs address the root causes of criminal behavior and provide participants with the resources to avoid reoffending. That might mean helping them find a job, getting them into drug treatment, or connecting them with counseling services.

The idea is that by addressing the underlying issues that lead to criminal behavior, we can prevent crime from happening in the first place. And by keeping people out of jail, we can save money and reduce overcrowding in our jails and prisons.

Jail diversion programs are essential to our justice system because they provide an alternative to incarceration for low-level offenders. They also offer much-needed support and resources to participants so that they can turn their lives around.

These programs reduce recidivism rates, save money, and improve public safety.

Reduced Recidivism Rates

Diversion programs provide the services and support people need to address the root causes of their criminal behavior, such as mental illness, substance abuse, and poverty. People are more likely to re-offend when these underlying issues are not addressed. But when allowed to participate in a diversion program, they’re likelier to stay out of trouble and lead productive, law-abiding lives.

Saves Money

Jail diversion programs also save money. Connecting someone with community-based resources costs much less than incarcerating them. 

Improved Public Safety

Despite what some people might think, jail diversion programs improve public safety. That’s because they help keep vulnerable individuals out of jail and connected with the resources they need to get healthy and stay out of trouble.

Examples of Diversion Programs

In the United States, several programs are aimed at providing alternatives to incarceration. Two common examples of jail diversion programs include:

Drug Court

Drug courts are specialized court dockets that handle cases involving offenders with substance use disorders (SUDs). Drug court aims to break the cycle of addiction and criminal behavior by offering treatment and rehabilitation services instead of incarceration.

How Do Drug Courts Work as Policing Alternatives?

Most drug courts follow a similar model. Defendants charged with nonviolent crimes and meeting the eligibility criteria are placed in the drug court program.

Once enrolled in the program, defendants must appear before the judge regularly. Progress is monitored closely, and defendants who complete the program may have their charges dismissed or reduced. Those not complying with the program requirements may be sanctioned with increased monitoring, additional treatment, or incarceration.

Mental Health Court

Mental health courts are a jail diversion program designed to provide treatment and support for people with mental illness who have been charged with crimes. Mental health courts are an alternative to traditional criminal courts and aim to keep participants out of the criminal justice system by connecting them with community-based mental health services.

Mental health courts typically involve close supervision and monitoring of participants by a team of professionals, including a judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, probation officer, and mental health case manager. Participants must regularly appear in court so that the judge can review their progress and compliance with the treatment plan. If participants complete the program, they may have their charges dismissed or receive a reduced sentence. Mental health courts can be effective policing alternatives.

The Co-Responder Model

There are two main ways in which the co-responder model can be implemented. The first is through what is known as ride-alongs. A mental health professional in this program will accompany a police officer for their entire shift. This way, the mental health professional can assist with any mental health crises that may come up.

In the second type of program, law enforcement will only call the mental health professional to the scene when their skills are needed. This is often seen as a more efficient use of resources, as it means that the mental health professional is not sitting idly by when there is no need for their services.

The type of program depends on the specific needs of the community being served.

Benefits of Co-Responder Programs

There are many benefits of using a co-responder model as an alternative to policing. First and foremost, it can help to de-escalate situations that may otherwise require law enforcement intervention. Sometimes, simply having a mental health professional on hand can be enough to diffuse a volatile situation.

The co-responder model can also provide much-needed assistance to people experiencing a mental health crisis who have not committed any crime. In these cases, having a mental health professional on hand can help connect these individuals with resources and services they may not be aware of or know how to access on their own.

Ultimately, the co-responder model aims to keep police officers and members of the general public safe during crisis situations involving mental illness. This program can be an invaluable resource for communities nationwide when done correctly.

What are Crisis Intervention Teams?

Recently, there has been an increased focus on the importance of crisis intervention teams (CITs) in police departments across the United States. Crisis intervention teams (CITs) are specialized professionals working together to respond to incidents involving people with mental illness. They typically involve a partnership between law enforcement, mental health professionals, and the individual’s family or support network.

The goal of a CIT is to de-escalate the situation and connect the individual with the resources they need to get treatment and avoid future crises. CITs use a team approach because no one professional has all the skills and knowledge necessary to respond effectively to a mental health crisis.

How do Crisis Intervention Teams Work as Policing Alternatives?

When a call comes into 911 involving someone with a mental health crisis, dispatchers will send a CIT-trained officer to the scene if one is available. The officer will try to de-escalate the situation and connect the individual with mental health services. The officer can also transport the individual to a hospital for necessary evaluation.

CIT officers are trained in de-escalation techniques and how to identify signs of mental illness. They also have experience in safely responding to volatile situations. Mental health professionals provide expertise in diagnosing and treating mental illness. They can also help connect individuals with resources like housing, employment assistance, and case management services.

The individual’s support network typically includes family members, friends, or others close to the person in crisis. This network can provide valuable information about the individual’s history, triggers for crisis, and what has been helpful in the past.

Support networks can also play a crucial role in following up with the individual after an incident to ensure they get the needed help. The goal is to reduce the number of arrested people and get them the help they need.

One of the most successful CIT models is The Memphis Model, developed by the Memphis Police Department in 1988.

The Memphis Model pairs police officers with social workers and requires officers to complete 40 hours of training on topics like de-escalation techniques and recognizing signs of mental illness. The program decreased arrests, use of force incidents, and emergency room visits.

Mental Health Data Must Inform Co-Responder Programs and Crisis Intervention Teams

When seconds count, having information about a person’s mental health can be the difference between life and death. Co-Responder Programs and Crisis Intervention Teams need access to a person’s treatment history to provide the best possible care.

This information can help the team understand what has worked for the person in the past and what hasn’t. It can also help them to know how best to communicate with the person and what type of approach will be most effective.

Without this information, team members may not know how to help the person best or may inadvertently make the situation worse. For example, if a co-responder does not understand a person is bipolar, they may misinterpret their behavior and think they are deliberately being combative or disruptive.

However, if they know the person is experiencing a manic episode, they can better understand their behavior and respond accordingly.

Fortunately, Julota can help with this. Julota is a software program that provides law enforcement and mental health professionals with information regarding the individual in crisis. It can show whether the individual is currently connected with treatment and other mental health history. This information quickly and easily appears on devices used by the police and other mental health professionals.

The issue of privacy and HIPAA laws is a significant struggle when accessing this information. Fortunately, this is not an issue with Julota. Julota is completely HIPAA-/mental health (42 CFR part 2)-/Criminal Justice Information System-compliant. Additionally, Julota can interface with any law enforcement CAD system, ensuring all systems involved have access to what they need.