“No Throw Away People”, the Diversion Council of Michigan

By RIM Reporter Peg Maniates

Muskegon County Sheriff Mike Poulin introduced the speaker, Michigan Lt. Governor Brian Calley.

The mental health of Michigan residents is an issue not to be ignored nor are the Sheriff Poulin  rising costs of incarceration and the high number of people ordered back into the criminal justice system after they’d been released to the street.  What’s a state to do?

Governing bodies in each county must juggle the needs of the people while keeping costs under control.  Michigan has created an innovative program that examines the reasons a person enters the world of incarceration and attempts to step in before the individual’s offences become habitual. The program is called the Mental Health Diversion Council.

The Council, chaired by Lt. Governor Calley, right, ­­­­is charged with “… reducing the number of people with mental illness or intellectual or developmental disabilities (including comorbid substance addiction) from entering the corrections system, while maintaining public safety.”  The Council officially adopted the action plan created by its original workgroup, which outlines specific goals, strategies and recommendations to improve diversion of those with mental illness and developmental disabilities.  Members are currently working to accomplish all of the outlined goals and milestones.

Muskegon Rotary was delighted to host Mr Calley as he discussed inroads the state has made regarding mental health and the promise they hold for our state’s residents.

“We don’t want them to just go to jail,” Calley told the audience.  “We want them to get the help they need so they can return home as productive members of society.”  He went on to say, “a health issue below the neck can be treated by many specialists, but there’s often a stigma when the problem happens above the neck.”  Calley acknowledged how difficult this can be; still, but the Michigan program is notably successful.

Officers typically are first on the crime scene so it’s imperative they understand what they are facing.  Making split-second decisions during the worst of circumstances is often their responsibility.  The state is attempting, through education, to provide officers with clues on how better to recognize if a perpetrator is suffering from some form of development disability, to then more accurately assess the situation at hand.

The earlier that intervention occurs, the more opportunities exist to help someone not become part of the penal system.  Diversions can occur as early as booking and follow clients through their entire process.  Calley commented that, in certain counties where this is practiced, jail overcrowding is no longer an issue as many people receive the mental help that they desperately need.  “Recognizing jail as the worst clinical setting for mental illness,” he said, “we have reduced recidivism rates from a high of 47% to a low of 28%.”

Additionally, Calley stated, “there are no throw away people.”  We much recognize each person’s situation and give them the opportunity to get better.

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