In partnership with the Walla Walla Police Department and Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, Comprehensive Healthcare was awarded a grant through the Washington Association of Sheriff and Police Chiefs (WASPC) in July, 2020, to begin an Arrest and Jail Alternatives (AJA) program in Eastern Washington. An AJA program integrates local law enforcement, behavioral health providers, prosecutors, and harm reduction programming to provide alternatives to arrest for those with mental health and substance use disorders. The program includes intensive case management, engagement and outreach, illness management and recovery, and low barrier access to essential services.
Community stakeholders, including Comprehensive Healthcare, Walla Walla and College Place Police Departments, the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s office, the Walla Walla County prosecutor’s office and Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, are collaborating on this new AJA program.
Comprehensive Healthcare in Yakima has been partnering with community stakeholders to provide a diversion program for many years, and is excited to expand similar services in Walla Walla with the support of these grant funds.
The AJA program will allow law enforcement, through social contacts or citation diversions, to refer individuals to appropriate behavioral health and community support organizations instead of incarceration. If a citation is diverted, the prosecutor agrees to defer the charge until a predetermined time. If the individual demonstrates engagement with treatment during that allotted time, then the deferred charge can be dropped.
“Arrest and jail alternatives programs are critical for those with behavioral health issues because they can divert them into treatment and stop the cycle of legal involvement. This ultimately promotes a safer community and improves people’s lives.” said Courtney Hesla, Vice President. Hesla also explained that successful implementation of the program, may create opportunities to continue diversion services in the future.
One outstanding aspect of this program is that an AJA case manager can respond to the field with a law enforcement officer to provide immediate engagement and offer enrollment in treatment services.
“We were excited to join in the opportunity, and eager to collaborate on the project. We have a need in our community for behavioral health assistance,” said Capt. Kevin Braman, Walla Walla Police Department. “Our biggest goal is to give whatever calls for service that we are responding to—the appropriate response. If that means a police contact and an arrest because it is a criminal offense, then that is appropriate and we will perform our duties in that fashion. If it is a behavioral health call and there is an alternative in which we can assist that individual with a better treatment plan, then by all means we want to be a part of that response,” said Capt. Braman.
Comprehensive Healthcare’s behavioral health AJA team will work seven days a week and attend law enforcement briefings each morning. The case manager will assist with getting the individual enrolled in behavioral healthcare services based on their identified needs and monitor their compliance with treatment services. The grant also supports designated client emergency funds to assist enrolled participants with emergent needs.
WASPC, alongside Comprehensive Healthcare’s Law Enforcement Liaison, will be supported by the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program as consultants to the community. WASPC will also provide a data capturing system so that officers and case managers can track outcomes for the State and WASPC.
“We are hopeful in achieving success in mental health diversion, and long term stabilization of offenders—leading to better quality of life and ultimately a reduction in crime,” said Capt. Braman.
What the Community Should Know
Comprehensive Healthcare will be working along-side law enforcement to assist with identifying those whom the police have contact with that may be appropriate for this program. It offers the opportunity for someone to participate in needed treatment, rather than continuing the cycle of incarceration and legal involvement.