$600,000 Grant Will Boost Mental Health Services in Missoula County Criminal Justice System

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Commissioners Josh Slotnick and Juanita Vero listen to Missoula County Detention Facility Assistant Commander Sheryl Ziegler during a tour of the jail in January. Missoula County recently received a $600,000 grant to incorporate more mental health services into the local criminal justice system, including in the jail.

Missoula County will continue to integrate more mental health services into the local criminal justice system over the next year and a half thanks to a nearly $600,000 grant from the state Department of Health and Human Services Addictive and Mental Disorders Division.

The $584,652 in funding through the department’s County and Tribal Matching Grant program will pay for staff and programming to address mental health and substance abuse issues that often coincide with criminal behavior. It will allow the county to continue providing crucial crisis stabilization services at the Missoula County Detention Facility, which include a jail therapist; a care coordinator who provides case management and peer support, both during incarceration and for up to three months after release; and Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for law enforcement.

The grant will also provide additional funding to support new resources, including:

  • A CIT coordinator to lead training efforts, which includes organizing Missoula’s annual CIT Academy that provides training to law enforcement and other first responders on how to best help individuals in crisis. Around 40 representatives from local law enforcement agencies and other criminal justice sectors have received this training annually since 2016.
  • A mental health coordinator at Partnership Health Center to facilitate communication among mental health providers, law enforcement and anyone seeking information on local services.
  • A full-time referral and outreach coordinator at Western Montana Mental Health Center, who, in addition to providing case management for involuntary mental health commitment cases, will work with law enforcement to provide outreach and early diversion work with vulnerable populations.

Missoula County and its partners identified these necessary additional resources last April during a Sequential Intercept Mapping workshop, a process that pinpoints gaps in services that would help divert individuals from jail at the different points in which they interact with the criminal justice system.

“Studies show that providing crisis services locally is better for the person in crisis and saves the community money in the long term,” said Josh Slotnick, current commission chair. “Missoula County is committed to using collaborative, innovative and effective strategies to better respond to these crises and provide the best available quality of care.”

Increasing access to resources for individuals experiencing mental health and substance abuse crises is a key component of the Jail Diversion Master Plan, which Missoula County and the City of Missoula adopted in 2016 with the goals of reducing jail overcrowding, decreasing criminal recidivism, enhancing public safety and more effectively using taxpayer money. According to the National Institute on Mental Illness, people in a mental health crisis are more likely to encounter police than get medical help. As a result, 2 million people with mental illnesses across the country are booked into jails each year. Nearly 15% of men and 30% of women booked into jails have a serious mental health condition.

Other jail diversion efforts through Missoula County and its partners include:

  • Involvement in the National Association of Counties’ Stepping Up Initiative, which provides participating agencies with a planning framework and other resources to develop policies, programs and practices to safely reduce the number of people with mental illness or substance abuse disorders who cycle through the criminal justice system.
  • Creation of the Strategic Alliance for Improved Behavioral Health and Wellbeing, a collaboration among local elected officials and high-level stakeholders from the community interested in improving services and responses for individuals with mental illness. This group recently received additional funding from the Montana Healthcare Foundation to continue their work for the next two years to address, at the systems-level, the unmet behavioral health care needs of Missoula’s vulnerable populations, which specifically includes low-income residents, people experiencing homelessness and individuals who have co-occurring substance use disorders.
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  • Development of data-driven solutions to address over-incarceration of vulnerable populations through a $700,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge. This funding led to the creation of the Criminal Justice Coordination Council, which studies Missoula County’s adult and juvenile criminal justice system to identify challenges, raise public awareness, consolidate efforts, and formulate policy, plans and programs to improve the system. The MacArthur grant also funded the Sequential Intercept Mapping workshop.
  • Donation of a four-acre parcel near the Missoula County Detention Facility to the City of Missoula, which will use the land to develop permanent supportive housing for at least 30 people experiencing chronic homelessness. This facility, which will include a navigation center offering support services, will help reduce this population’s interactions with law enforcement and local emergency departments. Many studies show that when people with mental health disorders are housed, the number of crisis mental health incidents, and subsequent criminal behavior, is reduced.
  • Establishment of ROAD Court, a DUI treatment program in Justice Court aimed at reducing the number of repeat DUIs in Missoula County. The program uses evidence-based practices to help repeat DUI offenders with substance abuse issues become healthy and productive community residents.
  • Creation of Calibrate, a prosecution-led pretrial diversion program in the Missoula County Attorney’s Office. Calibrate is a first-of-its-kind program in Montana that identifies low-risk offenders early and gives them an opportunity to avoid criminal conviction by addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior, such as addiction. The program will save taxpayer dollars, improve the chances of offenders succeeding and free up resources so prosecutors can focus on violent criminals.

Learn more about Missoula County’s jail diversion efforts online.

Commissioner Rowley heads to D.C. to take on criminal justice reform

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Current Missoula County Commission Chair Nicole “Cola” Rowley is headed to Washington, D.C., to continue her important work on law and justice issues, this time on a national stage.

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Commissioner Rowley

Earlier this year, the National Association of Counties named Cola to its Justice and Public Safety Policy Steering Committee, and she boarded a plane Friday morning to make her way to NACo’s annual Legislative Conference in the nation’s capital. At the conference, she’ll join county representatives from across the country to help inform NACo policy and advocacy in the realm of law enforcement, courts, corrections, homeland security, community crime prevention, juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, emergency management, fire prevention and control, and civil disturbances. She’ll also participate in a panel discussion on “Connecting Federal and County Systems of Care,” which will highlight county efforts to improve child, adult and family outcomes through local health and human services integration models and the collaboration needed among local, state and federal entities to make that happen.

“Missoula County has been a leader in the state when it comes to criminal justice reform, and it’s rewarding to know the hard work of so many people will now spur discussion and strategy at a higher level,” Cola says. “I’m excited for this opportunity to continue to expand my knowledge on innovative, evidence-based best practices and be involved in justice systems policy nationally.”

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Door to a housing unit at the Missoula County Detention Facility

The list of qualifications that earned Cola this role is impressive. She’s engaged in criminal justice analysis and improvement since she took office in 2015, collaborating with county departments, partner jurisdictions, nonprofits and other agencies to address inequalities in local systems. Her efforts include:

  • Partnering with Sheriff T.J. McDermott to apply for and receive a grant from the Policy Innovation Lab at the Sorensen Impact Center to study the feasibility of implementing a Pay for Success financing model to address overcrowding at the Missoula County Detention Facility.
  • Engaging Missoula County in the Stepping Up Initiative, a national movement to reduce incarceration of mentally ill individuals. This included successfully applying to bring a team, which included staff from the Sheriff’s Office, County Attorney’s Office and the Western Montana Mental Health Center, to Washington, D.C., for planning and technical assistance to address the issue. Rowley was later invited to speak at the 2016 National Stepping Up Summit.
  • Coordinating implementation of many recommendations in the city-county Jail Diversion Master Plan, adopted in 2016. Jail diversion efforts helped the county land two MacArthur Foundation grants in recent years: $50,000 in 2017 for the Native Outreach Project to address over-incarceration of Native Americans, and $700,000 in 2018 for the Safety and Justice Challenge, an over-arching, data-driven justice improvement effort.
  • Facilitating formation of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, a collaborative, cross-jurisdictional governance structure that oversees more than two dozen justice system projects, services and initiatives in Missoula.
  • Helping launch the Kindness, Elegance and Love Project (KELP), a novel collaborative effort at Partnership Health Center that aims to more effectively funnel parents involved in dependent-neglect cases to appropriate services and support. The project was one of four in the country selected for NACo’s Cross-Systems Partnerships Leadership Lab, which helps counties improve the social, health and economic outcomes of populations involved in the justice system.

You can learn more about the county’s initiatives in criminal justice reform on the Missoula County website. More details on the Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee are also online.