In 2015, Hennepin County personnel re-raised the alarm on the numbers of people in jail that incarceration did not properly serve. Each year the Minneapolis Police Department was responding to more than 6,000 calls involving people experiencing a mental health crisis; 100 people a day were being booked into jail, often suffering from untreated mental health substance use issues. There were many repeat calls to the same people in crisis — 75 percent had previous bookings.
As a five-year joint report of city and county attorneys, police officers, and public defenders, and Health and Human Services personnel described it in a 2020 report: “Together, we realized that there was a lack of coordination, ineffective policies, and outdated service models that failed to address urgent underlying needs. Our environmental scan revealed that services were fragmented and focused on people who already were in the criminal justice system. We knew we needed to do more on the front end, to try to divert people from jail.”
They developed a Sequential Intercept Model to understand interactions between criminal justice and mental health systems, identify how to make a difference, and pinpoint strategies to improve safety and well-being. In the first year, the report says, there was a 48 percent reduction in rebooking people into the criminal justice system, and a 61 percent reduction in emergency room visits.
Hennepin County is one of six national sites for a Transition From Jail to Community project. As Cynthia Arkema-O’Harra, program manager for the Hennepin County Adult Behavioral Health program, said in the five-year report: “I want to see continued growth. We have a lot of great resources for citizens to get connected to resources other than going to jail or sitting in the emergency department because police don’t know what else to do.”
Currently, the Hennepin County team is working to identify policy reform that will enable better early identification of issues that can be better remedied by treatment resources than the criminal system. Clinical social workers, alongside public defenders, assess needs, make referral recommendations, help navigate the behavioral care system, complete clinical evaluations, determine treatment plans and funding options, and monitor progress. Licensed alcohol and drug counselors provide assessments and referrals, coordinate care, and offer short-term case management.
With the upcoming local elections focused on where voters land on public safety needs — the $180-million, 600-plus-person Minneapolis police department being a central piece of the conversation — we are focused on providing information about what solutions are getting committed, long-term resources. There has been a history — as we see in our Minnesota Women’s Press archives — of short-term investments in healing justice solutions.
We talked with Jessica Angeles about her role as an embedded social worker with Hennepin County law enforcement.