Short Stay Behind Bars Before Diversion Does Not Affect Mental Health Outcomes, Study Finds

Criminal offenders who went to jail before being diverted into mental health treatment fared no better in the long run than those who go straight into diversion programs, according to a study of Connecticut defendants.

“Short stays in jail before diversion did not appear to be associated with improved mental health and reoffending outcomes, even though they appeared to improve receipt of psychotropic medication,” said Allison Robertson, Ph.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, and colleagues online this week in Psychiatric Services in Advance. The researchers compared 102 diversion participants who first went to jail with 102 who went directly into diversion.

The “jail first” strategy did lead to a greater chance that the prisoner would receive psychotropic medications, but all other indicators—use of outpatient services, psychiatric hospitalizations, jail days, emergency visits, or rearrest—demonstrated similar outcomes whether the person was sent to jail or diversion first.

These findings may indicate that the participant’s risk may be influenced not only by mental health treatment but also by criminogenic factors like unstable housing, unemployment, or lack of social services, said Robertson. “These analyses offer an early but important indication that a brief incarceration before diversion to the community does not ultimately achieve the goals of the courts—reduced recidivism and improved public safety,” the researchers said.

To read more about diversion programs for offenders with mental illness, see the Psychiatric News articles, “Program Prepares Defendants for Return to the Community” and “Combined Effort Needed to Prevent Incarceration of Mentally Ill People.”

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