Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Justice Found in Attention to Detail

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Justice Found in Attention to Detail

Article excerpt

One day, early on in my career, I recall a conversation with a manufacturing manager, whose team built a very complicated piece of telecommunications circuitry--the core product of a fast-growing business. My question was simple: "How do you do it?"

He looked at me, years of experience in his eyes, and said simply, "You know, this just barely works." I realized then that his team's success depended on managing a thousand things that could go wrong every day--but didn't.

In our field, things are much the same. It is difficult to develop and then replicate methods and. practices that consistently deliver great outcomes. Consistency in outcome demands consistency throughout and great attention to detail. Sometimes, our efforts seem so fragile, so difficult to explain, as though they just barely work.

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But then, people like our 2011 Behavioral Healthcare Champions help us break through and show us how programs that master the details can make a powerful difference. Take, for example, the criminal justice work done by one of our 2011 Champions, Leon Evans of San Antonio, Tex. He champions a system in which police are trained to recognize that about one in five individuals placed under arrest has a mental health or substance use problem that needs specialized (but not ER) treatment, followed by adjudication to community correctional or transitional housing (not jail or prison) and ongoing community supports.

The process by which this is done is no secret (see page 19). The savings to governments, law enforcement, hospitals, jails, and other community resources are remarkable in cities like San Antonio, where effective justice reforms are in place. And, with the help of reentry programs, some cities are helping to reduce recidivism and other social costs for the many released from incarceration each year.

Yet, the battle for would-be champions of criminal justice reforms remains difficult, dogged by skepticism and dwindling federal and state resources. In too many counties, non-violent offenders (NVOs) with behavioral health problems aren't properly treated until long after their arrest, after weeks in jail, a visit to court, and perhaps, imprisonment. This occurs despite the fact that effective jail diversion, community-based corrections, treatment, housing, and community support programs can help NVOs and reduce recidivism for a fraction of the cost of jail or prison. …

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