The Behavioral Health Diversion Forum: Celebrating Seven Years of Interagency Success

CASES is pleased to be celebrating the seventh year of the Behavioral Health Diversion Forum (BHDF) and wishes to acknowledge the Jacob and Valeria Langeloth Foundation for its longstanding support of this unique New York County initiative.

This marks the seventh year of the New York County Behavioral Health Diversion Forum, established by CASES in 2008 to promote effective diversion policies and practices for court-involved individuals with mental illness. The BHDF—which is primarily supported by the Jacob and Valeria Langeloth Foundation [1] and co-chaired by CASES and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) [2]—is composed of more than 70 representatives of more than 30 government agencies, advocacy groups, and service providers including the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the NY County District Attorney’s Office, NYC Departments of Probation and Correction, and dozens of nonprofit advocacy and service organizations.

Over the years, the Forum’s quarterly meetings have provided an important opportunity for these often siloed stakeholders to come together, exchange ideas, and collaborate on diversion initiatives. For example, it was through a discussion at the BHDF about the need to better protect the confidentiality of individuals with mental illness during the arraignment process that the Legal Aid Society conceived the Manhattan Arraignment Diversion Project (MAP) [3]—an early intervention for defendants with mental illness. MAP is now being implemented in other NY counties.

It was also through the BHDF that CASES developed Manhattan Short-Term Alternatives and Referrals to Treatment (START), a robust alternative to incarceration that annually serves over 2,000 men and women with behavioral health needs, providing them with clinical assessments, drug education, and case management in daytime custody or community settings. As the intersection between behavioral health and criminal justice continues to gain traction as a major policy issue, programs like Manhattan START and MAP will play an important role in highlighting the viability of low-cost alternatives and encouraging the diversion of more people with behavioral health needs.

The Forum has recently turned its attention to the initiation of the Affordable Care Act and NYS Medicaid Redesign, which presents a critical opportunity to stem the chronic use of the correctional system as a repository for people with mental illness and to expand access to appropriate community-based healthcare and related services. In response to this exciting development, the BHDF is bolstering its efforts to maximize the collaboration between public safety and public health stakeholders including health homes and managed care organizations. One such initiative will include a one-day symposium in 2016 for executive-level, policy, and direct service staff who work across the criminal justice and behavioral health sectors and are looking to expand their understanding of how to manage and deliver services to justice-involved individuals with behavioral health needs.

CASES would like to thank the Langeloth Foundation for its initial and continuing support of the New York County Behavioral Health Diversion Forum. We also thank DOHMH, the Forum’s co-chair, and the members who have committed to improving public health and public safety outcomes for justice-involved individuals with behavioral health needs.