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Alternatives to Incarceration: A Snapshot of Mental Health Jail Diversion in Johnson County, Iowa
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By Jessica Peckover, Jail Alternatives Coordinator, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Iowa City, Iowa

The Jail Alternatives Program was launched in 2005 after voters in Johnson County, Iowa, turned down the county’s proposal to fund a jail expansion that would alleviate crowding. Instead, voters preferred to reduce the need for jail beds by diverting from jail custody eligible individuals with behavioral health disorders and ensuring they would receive treatment in the community.

This article discusses how the program staff act as boundary spanners to identify eligible detainees and inmates and to connect them with treatment. The program follows the Sequential Intercept Model recommended by SAMHSA’S GAINS Center .

To implement the model, the Sheriff’s Office collaborated with other agencies on a system-wide view of points when mentally ill people can be assisted to stay out of justice system custody. The comprehensive approach relies on interactions with a network of justice system agencies and treatment providers, including hospitals and the county Mental Health and Disability Services department. Also discussed is how the Jail Alternatives staff work with probationers/parolees and their supervising officers to promote success while they are under community supervision.

Though formal crisis intervention team training is not available locally, the two-person program staff assists when possible with law enforcement response to calls involving mental health issues. They also provide training to law enforcement on the principles of mental health crisis intervention.

On the basis of reduced use of jail beds, the Jail Alternatives team has saved Johnson County taxpayers nearly $2 million.

Posted Mon, Mar 31 2014 8:25 AM by Susan Powell


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