New Jersey Bill Calls for Diversion Program to Keep the Mentally ill Out of Jail

According to a 2017 study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, inmates have higher rates of serious psychological distress than the general population of the United States. The study shows that 55% of male inmates and 73% of female inmates are mentally ill. In an attempt to reduce the number of inmates with mental illness, a bill was been introduced by State Senator Shirley Turner in the New Jersey legislature that would allow police officers to refer less serious criminals with mental health issues to treatment instead of court or jail. The idea of the bill is to divert people to treatment before they even set foot in jail.

Training for Police Officers

The bill calls for the Police Training Commission to conduct a one-day class to provide police officers with the skills and knowledge necessary to recognize a mental health crisis and to divert an individual experiencing a crisis to the appropriate treatment. Police would be required to take a refresher course once every five years. The bill also recommends that at least 20% of uniformed patrol officers receive 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Team training. During both of these trainings law enforcement will be taught:

  • About the nature and cause of mental illness
  • How to identify indicators of mental illness
  • Conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques
  • Language to use when interacting with the mentally ill
  • Alternatives to lethal force when interacting with the mentally ill
  • About community resources available to help the mentally ill and how law enforcement can utilize these resources.

Diverting the Mentally Ill

Under the bill, if law enforcement encounters an individual who exhibits behaviors indicative of a mental health crisis, instead of arresting the person and placing them in jail, the officer can take the person for a mental health screening and assessment. After an evaluation is performed, the officer would then have the discretion to decide whether a criminal complaint should be filed. Except in the cases of violent offenses and individuals who pose a risk to themselves or others, there is a presumption that the criminal complaint will not be filed or will be delayed until the individual receives behavioral health treatment. The bill also gives the district attorney’s office discretion to approve diversion after a criminal complaint has been filed.

In addition, the proposal calls for the state Department of Health to coordinate with county governments to organize a Mental Health Services Coordinating Council to identify addiction support services — including organizations that can provide screening, treatment, and case management that will help law enforcement assist those who are eligible to avoid jail.

If you or a loved one suffers from a mental illness and has been convicted of or arrested for a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.

Recent Posts