By Rachel Leber
TACOMA, Wash. — Starting in March 2018, Pierce County will have a greater ability to address mental health conditions in its criminal justice system and in its jail in Tacoma — thanks to the $1.9 million Trueblood Phase II grant that was awarded to the county by the U.S. District Court on Dec. 5.
The 18-month grant will fund mental health professionals, case coordinators, a social worker and legal professionals with expertise in prosecutorial diversion of cases that include behavioral health factors within the Pierce County criminal justice system. In addition, the grant will fund a court resource center, supportive housing and rental assistance for individuals transitioning from jail in Pierce County.
The county will contract with Greater Lakes Mental Healthcare based in Lakewood, Wash., to provide assessment, case management and therapeutic treatment, and substance-use assessment will be provided by Pioneer Human Services, a Seattle-based organization that serves individuals with criminal background in areas of treatment, housing, job skills training and employment.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to improve outcomes for those who languish in our criminal justice system due to no fault of their own,” said Carol Mitchell, director of justice services and special projects for Pierce County, in a recent statement. “This grant provides us with meaningful ways to divert individuals with behavioral health conditions from jail to therapeutic treatment, and to create more effective re-entry support for those returning to the local community.”
The Trueblood grant came to fruition through the efforts, of a multi-disciplinary team of county officials who make up the Criminal Justice Diversion (CJD) Steering Committee, led by Mitchell, who spearheaded the project. The CJD Steering Committee provides oversight of the county’s behavioral health and criminal justice diversion programs, and its members act as co-designers of Criminal Justice Diversion grant proposals, including the Trueblood Phase II proposal, according to Libby Catalinich, APR, and director at the office of communications at Pierce County.
The Trueblood Phase II grant was the county’s first Trueblood grant proposal, though the Pierce County Sheriff, and the county’s District Court and Superior Court have applied for and received a variety of grant funding for the county’s therapeutic courts and diversion programs that serve a broader population than the Trueblood grants, according to Catalinch. In addition, the county was already busy at work on a second proposal for Trueblood Phase III when the first grant was awarded — and was turned in on Dec. 22.
Pierce County’s motivation to find additional funding in the form of the Trueblood grant was a result of financial gaps identified in the 2016 Human Services Research Institute Study of the county’s overall behavioral health system, according to Catalinch.
“Behavioral health and criminal justice diversion programs are not new to Pierce County,” said Catalinch. “Pierce County was the first county in Washington state to contract with independent providers to perform in-jail competency evaluations,” an approach which has sped up the competency evaluation process greatly.
In addition, Pierce County currently supports other criminal justice diversion strategies, such as prosecutorial “friendship” diversion, pre-trial electronic home monitoring services, an in-custody mental health unit, in-custody jail transition services, the District Court Probation Behavioral Health Unit and three therapeutic court programs: Drug Court, Mental Health Court and DART (the Drug Abuse Reduction Team).
“The Trueblood grant adds additional resources that build upon the great work already begun in these areas,” said Catalinch.