First responders trained to divert some offenders from jail in favor of treatment

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Each year, 40,000 people are arrested and booked into the Marion County Jail system.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said they don’t all need to be locked up.

“For justice in this city means not focusing on how many beds must be added to accommodate inmates, but how many beds can be avoided in favor of providing the help our neighbors need,” he said.

Hogsett’s comments came at the first training session of M-Cat: Marion County’s Mobile Crisis Assistance Team.

M-CAT is a three-member squad consisting of an IMPD officer, a paramedic and a crisis specialist from Eskanazi Health that will evaluate an offender/client when police are called but the answer may be a medical, mental health, addiction or social referral instead of the filing of criminal charges.

“We know what they don’t know,” said IMPD Chief Bryan Roach. “They know what we don’t know and then you have a paramedic who knows what both of us don’t know. I hope it will be successful because you have a lot of smart people in the room trying to impact the lives people who are having difficulty.”

Often when a family is struggling with a loved one who is resistant to medication and treatment and resorts to minor criminal acts, IMPD officers are frustrated by the lack of resources and training that leave them no alternative to handcuffs and an arrest record.

Now, with the opening of the Reuben Engagement Center at the Arrestee Processing Center, officers and Indianapolis EMS crews have an alternative to place an offender who needs immediate assessment and supervision along with a treatment plan.

“First is, what can we solve on scene?” asked IEMS Director Dr. Charles Miramonti. “Taking assessment of the social situation, the mental health situation and access health care initiatives. Is there a drug or toxic problem? So is there a medical, mental health or social problem that we can fix there and then?

“If there is something that can be managed as an outpatient in the days to come with urgent follow up in 24 hours or 48 hours, then we would arrange for that to happen and if we need acute mental health services then we would arrange for that access as well immediately.”

Miramonti estimates such services would be called upon at least three times in a twelve-hour shift on the city’s east side, perhaps as often as ten times in a half-day.

IMPD’s East District was chosen for the pilot program which begins Aug. 1 based on the east side’s Social Disorder Index, a ranking determined by the number of police runs, violent crimes, medical assistance and family dispute reports that first responders address.

“Obviously we want to look at public safety outcomes, arrests, do we truly divert away from jail?” asked Miramonti. “Do we truly divert away from needless emergency department visits? What are the total costs? Are we getting folks the access that they need? Are they in a clinic within 24 hours? Can they handle that volume?

“What are the patient clinical outcome measures and then from a public safety and municipal initiative or perspective, what are we saving? What is the impact we are having on our communities?”

Hogsett has made diversion of low-level offenders a centerpiece of his criminal justice reform package which sets the basis for the administration’s proposed Community Justice Center on East Prospect Street.

The planned $570 million center would include a new jail and sheriff’s office along with a courthouse and medical assessment component to reduce the costs of incarcerating offenders and patients who would be better housed and treated in a community health care setting.

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