Re-Thinking the Police Response to the Mentally Ill and Chronic Substance-Abusing Population: The Santa Fe, New Mexico Jail Diversion Program

Michael D. White, University of North Florida
John S. Goldkamp, Temple University
Don Gottfredson, Rutgers University

Because of their responsibility to protect the public as well as those who suffer from disabilities (i.e., parens patrie), police are frequently the agency called upon to handle disturbances involving mentally ill or irrational individuals. Recent research demonstrating that a large proportion of individuals housed in jails and prisons in the United States suffer from mental illness suggests that police are increasingly relying on formal responses such as arrest to resolve such encounters. The growing body of evidence suggesting that mental illness is being criminalized raises serious concerns for both criminal justice and mental health systems. This paper examines a joint effort by the Santa Fe, New Mexico Police Department and Crisis Response of Santa Fe, a city-sponsored mental to the filing of criminal charges. Through assessment and referral to appropriate services, the Jail Diversion program seeks to more adequately meet the needs of this population and thereby reduce the likelihood of recidivism. The paper examines the overall prevalence of mental illness and chronic substance abuse in Santa Fe and considers the impact of the program on both individuals' subsequent behavior, as well as on the criminal justice system overall.

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Updated 05/20/2006