January 12, 2007
Contact: Kaylyn Kendall Dines
Phone: (973) 972-3000
UMDNJ Employees Facilitate New Jail Diversion Program in Essex County
NEWARK — Thanks to a new pilot program in Essex County, being arrested may not result in incarceration for men and women afflicted by mental illness. As a result of a partnership between the Mental Health Association of Essex County and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, the Jail Diversion Program will identify adults who need to be referred to behavioral health care facilities instead of incarceration.
The Jail Diversion Program provides behavioral health resources and emergency psychiatric assessments to individuals processed into the Essex County Correctional Facility. The partnership, which is led by the MHAEC in conjunction with the Jail Diversion Program at the UMDNJ-University Behavioral HealthCare, helps offenders obtain the treatment they need to safely reintegrate into society. Mental health professionals will screen adults who have been arrested for misdemeanor offenses. In addition, education and training programs on a wide-range of mental health issues will also be offered to municipalities for law enforcement personnel in the community and in the ECCF.
“The goal of this program is to divert men and women who have mental illnesses from the criminal justice system,” said Christopher O. Kosseff, president and CEO of the UMDNJ-University Behavioral HealthCare. “By providing screening services on-site at the Essex County Correctional Facility, at-risk individuals are being screened and referred to a therapeutic facility rather than a correctional facility. Through this effort, we hope to decrease the number of emergency room visits and increase access and linkages to mental health and social services for offenders who need them.”
Mental health screeners from UMDNJ-University Behavioral HealthCare will be onsite seven days a week from 8 a.m. to midnight in the intake area for assessments. MHAEC forensic case managers will be available from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and on call for assistance with disposition planning at the Essex County Correctional Facility on Doremus Avenue in Newark.
“The work that we are doing in concert with University Behavioral HealthCare is truly a humanitarian effort,” said Robert N. Davison, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Essex County. “There are many people who are inappropriately incarcerated largely due to their mental illnesses. We believe providing behavioral health care services for mentally ill individuals, who have committed misdemeanors is by far, a better use of human and public resources.”
Men and women whose behavior indicates a need for mental health treatment will be screened and evaluated. Offenders, who can be released on his or her own recognizance, will be sent to the designated screening facility for the appropriate level of care. Other offenders will be admitted to the ECCF and referred to Correctional Healthcare Services (CHS), which is a contracted medical provider at the ECCF. Otherwise, if in-patient stabilization is needed, the offender will be sent to Ann Klein Forensic Hospital in Trenton.
Individuals who are incarcerated and show signs of a mental illness will be referred to CHS for psychiatric treatment and the MHAEC forensic case managers for discharge planning at the Essex County Correctional Facility. The level of treatment for each individual will vary and may include referrals for outpatient treatment, medication, housing, social services, education and employment.
“The partnership between UMDNJ-University Behavioral HealthCare, the Mental Health Association of Essex County and the County of Essex will provide our detainees with the help and support they need and place them in an environment that is more conducive to their recovery,” Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. said.
In October 2006, the Essex County Correctional Facility reported 1584 detainees referred for a mental health screening and 861 detainees who met with a psychiatrist. Of the 861 detainees 663 were males, 232 of them received psychotropic medications and 48 were on suicide watch.
Common mental illnesses suffered by inmates include psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia, and affective disorders such as bipolar illness and depression. Substance abuse, which frequently further alters behavior, thinking, and emotional states, often results in criminal activity, misdemeanor offenses, and subsequent arrests.
Funding was provided to the MHAEC through a grant from the New Jersey Division of Mental Health, which is part of the N.J. Department of Human Services. The MHAEC contracts psychiatric screening services from t he UMDNJ-University Behavioral HealthCare.
UMDNJ is the nation’s largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,500 students attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and a school of public health on five campuses. Annually, there are more than two million patient visits at UMDNJ facilities and faculty practices at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a statewide mental health and addiction services network.