Fairfax County launches initiative to reduce the number of mentally ill in jails

WASHINGTON –Fairfax County is launching an aggressive effort to reduce the number of people with mental illness in local jails.

The Diversion First initiative involves a multi-prong approach with adjustments and training to include police officers, corrections facilities and the court system that will have a new Mental Health Docket.

Supporters say Diversion First is a worthy investment that will lead to less crime, less homelessness and more cost savings.

“Eventually, we will save money. Because the most expensive thing we do is put people in jail, and treatment is much cheaper,” says Fairfax County Supervisor John Cook, who has helped organize the effort.

Recidivism rates can drop from 80 percent down to as low as 20 percent  when offenders with mental health issues get treatment instead of being incarcerated, according to Cook.

“In Bexar County, Texas, where this program is a model, they’re saving millions of dollars a year on incarceration costs, they’ve seen their homeless population drop by 85 percent and people are getting the treatment they need. So, this is really exciting,” Cook says.

The Diversion First initiative is expected to launch by January 2016.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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