Jail diversion programs strive to divert offenders with mental illness from prosecution and into mental health treatment. Participants sometimes spend a short time in jail after arraignment, either because treatment resources are not immediately available or because judges want to increase their motivation for treatment. This study explored the effects of short jail stays before jail diversion (“jail first”) on participants’ postdiversion service use and reoffending.
The data were merged administrative records from public behavioral health and criminal justice systems in Connecticut for 712 adults with serious mental illness who participated in the jail diversion program during fiscal years 2005–2007. The effects on treatment receipt, crisis-driven service use, and reoffending during the six months postdiversion among jail first participants (N=102) versus a propensity-matched sample of participants who were diverted immediately (N=102) were estimated.
Jail first participants had greater improvements in receipt of psychotropic medication during the follow-up compared with their counterparts who were diverted immediately. However, compared with participants who were immediately diverted, they did not have greater reductions in crisis-driven service use or reoffending and the time to reincarceration was shorter.
Short stays in jail before diversion did not appear to be associated with improved mental health and reoffending outcomes, even though they appeared to improve receipt of psychotropic medication. Further research is needed to better understand the relationships between jail first, receipt of psychotropic medication, and broader health and offending outcomes, with a focus on identifying missing links that address criminogenic risks and participants’ more intensive social service needs.