Wayne County Jail and DWIHN partner to solve jail-related mental health crisis

Mental health is a widespread problem in our society. Recently, a heightened awareness has been shown for the most neglected part of our human experience. One area that mental health receives the most dissonance and abandonment is within the prison system.

Wayne County Jail and DWIHN (Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network) have recognized the discrepancy in the cost of holding inmates for misdemeanors and petty crimes. From 2015 to 2017, the operating cost of keeping an inmate who was charged with a misdemeanor was $93 million. Robert Dunlap, chief of jails for the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office understands that “treatment” options should be available for those who’ve committed low-level crimes.

“To the extent that nonviolent, low-level offenses such as trespassing might owe to someone’s mental health, the idea is that treatment should be available,” Dunlap said. “Some people need to be in jail. Some people need treatment. And some people need to be treated while they’re in jail. We want to get everyone in the right place.”

A $150,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will help get everyone in the right place. The jail and mental health system will form a database that will operate in two phases. The first phase will utilize the database to distinguish between the attributes of mentally ill inmates which signify the likelihood of non-violent crime. The second phase will recognize inmates who are mentally ill and have committed a misdemeanor. These inmates will receive treatment to reduce the risk of further crimes being committed. “We’re hoping that by addressing whatever those mental health challenges are if those were contributors to the issues that bought that individual to our company, that we remove that and we prevent them from returning,” Dunlap said.

Wayne County is in the middle of a jail transition that’s largely influenced by Miami’s jail system. Over the years, Miami has seen a reduction in mental-health-related jail incidences which is why Wayne County stakeholders traveled there in September. The participants partnered with members from Miami-Dade County to deliberate about the rampant issue. The trip served as a learning experience according to Andrea Cole, CEO and executive director of the Flinn Foundation. “Learning the Miami model is not just about adopting a new approach — the goal was never for a straight adaptation. It’s a chance to ask people who’ve built a diversion program what they did when their vision or capabilities met roadblocks.”

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