Peer Support Programs Help Defendants with Mental Illness in Phoenix


It’s tough to be charged with a crime if you are mentally ill in Phoenix. It’s even harder if you have no family or other support networks to turn to.

However, peer support programs often play an invaluable role in helping mentally ill people who fall foul of the law.

The role of the Criminal Justice Engagement Team was highlighted by 91.5 KJZZ. The team works with people following diagnosis with a serious mental illness in Phoenix.

the importance of peer support programs in Arizona

Peer support programs help Arizona’s mentally ill

The report noted how Gary Peltier of the team met a mentally ill man called Marco when he was released from the 4th Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix in 2016.

Marco walked out of the jail clutching a plastic bag filled with the belongings he had with during his arrest.

The report noted Peltier worked as an engagement specialist with Southwest Behavioral Health Services’ Criminal Justice Engagement Team. Members of the team go to county jails to pick up people when they are released three times a day. Most arrests were for minor offenses.

Workers with the Southwest Behavioral Health team help mentally ill people after their release from jail. They assist them to obtain driver’s licenses, to find a roof over their heads, to get a bus pass, or to understand the Arizona court system. Workers like Peltier said they also provide plenty of encouragement and hope.

Peltier told KJZZ these peer support programs are effective. He has firsthand experience of the issues. He was jailed and ended up at Central Arizona Shelter Services.

The Criminal Justice Engagement Team helps people who diagnosed with a serious mental illness following their arrests for non-violent crimes.

The first step is to make sure people like Marco have a place to sleep for the night. The team gives them a case manager.

Rachel Zamora, a senior team leader for the Criminal Justice Engagement Team, described the operation as like being a “triage team.”

Time is of the essence. The team aims to get a referral and meet with the individual within 24 hours of their release from jail. The alternative may be languishing behind bars where their condition deteriorates or ending up on the streets with no support.

The Criminal Justice Engagement Team was launched in 2016. It is part of the Smart Justice Program, a partnership between the county and Mercy Maricopa, the regional behavioral health authority.

At the Garcia Law Firm, our attorney helps mentally ill people who get in trouble with the law in Phoenix and elsewhere in Arizona. People with mental health issues are often charged with minor crimes. They may lack the ability to understand what is going on and risk incarceration for long periods. Call the firm at 602) 340-1999.

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Program Tackles Mental Health Talk at Arizona Schools


Thanks to a new program, mental health is starting to be discussed more in Arizona schools starting this year. There are currently no standards for mental health education in Arizona schools. But some school districts are taking the issue into their own hands and changing the current system by opening up the conversation on mental health.

“Ending the Silence”: A New School Program

Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 10 to 24 year olds in the United States. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, around 18 percent of Americans suffer with a mental illness. That is why they have started the program, “Ending the Silence”. The program consists of a classroom presentation for middle and high school students to raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.

The Program has Already Been Adopted into Several Schools Throughout Southern Arizona

Arizona is planning to expand the program across even more schools in the state. It has already received positive and encouraging feedback from participating students, with 19 percent reporting that is has made them take action to get help. Take home handouts are also available to help students feel more comfortable about openly discussing the topic with their parents. The stigma surrounding mental health has been an issue causing teens and young adults to feel embarrassed or ashamed, preventing them from talking about it.

Some School Districts are Also Starting to Require Health Education

There were 47 reported suicides in Arizona in the year 2015 and 98 percent of them were found to have been preventable. Because of this, some school districts are creating health education classes as required credits to expose students to more mental health education. Arizona schools are hoping that by opening up the conversation about mental health, more students will understand it and feel more comfortable asking for help.

Photo by Michal Jarmoluk

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