How Effective are Prison Diversion Programs for Mentally Ill Defendants in Arizona?


Many U.S. states have programs to divert people with mental illnesses away from the criminal justice system. However, a large number of states are failing to provide prison diversion programs and other initiatives.

According to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, access to alternatives to incarceration are limited for mentally ill defendants in Arizona. Just 21 percent of the population was found to be served by a mental health court.

Arizona fared better for crisis intervention teams. The study found 84 percent of the population had access to a CIT.

Prison diversion programs for mentally ill people

Prison diversion programs for mentally ill people are patchy

Police in the City of Memphis in Tennessee pioneered the crisis intervention team model in 1988. It involves a police department intensively training groups of officers on the nature of various forms of mental illness.

The Treatment Advocacy Center report stated:

“Having officers with knowledge of mental illness respond to sensitive incidents sharply reduces the risks of injury and death,”

The report’s authors awarded Arizona a B- rating. It was the 16th best state in the country for participation in jail diversion programs for mentally ill people.

Since the report was published, more mental health courts have been set up in Arizona.

A specialized court was set up in Pinal County in 2017 to give defendants with mental problems an alternative path to prison and keep them out of the criminal justice system. The court is a therapeutic, post-sentence facility for defendants placed on supervised probation.

The alternative paths for mentally ill defendants in Arizona can be beneficial. Few environments are worse for people with mental disorders than prisons. Although the programs can be demanding, they often have a more positive impact on defendants than incarceration.

In 2018, the Treatment Advocacy Center published An Analysis of U.S. Psychiatric Treatment Laws. It looked at legislation for involuntary treatment for psychiatric illness in each state. Arizona scored a B in the survey.

The study found seven states – Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee – still use an outdated standard requiring that harm to self or others needs to be imminent for a person to qualify for inpatient commitment.

If a mentally ill family member has been charged with a crime, you may be facing a traumatic ordeal. Our Phoenix criminal defense attorney specializes in representing people with mental illnesses. Please call us today at (602) 340-1999.

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