For several years now, Washtenaw County Community Mental Health (WCCMH) and the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) have worked together to improve services for incarcerated adults with mental health and substance use disorders and to prevent more of these individuals from entering the criminal justice system in the first place. These diversion and support activities are being expanded with Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage funding, including by the development of new activities and systems change efforts for justice-involved youth with behavioral health conditions.
Toward this end, in 2019 WCCMH and the WCSO sponsored a 1.5-day workshop in Ann Arbor, during which more than five-dozen individuals from two-dozen Washtenaw County organizations worked to develop integrated strategies to better respond to the needs of justice-involved youth experiencing mental health and substance use conditions.
At the youth workshop, facilitated by the National Center for Youth Opportunity and Justice (NCYOJ), WCCMH and the Sheriff's Office worked with participants to develop a detailed map showing the flow of juvenile justice contact for youth with mental health and substance use disorders, as well as the county’s existing referral systems, services, and service barriers. The group then identified opportunities to increase cross-systems collaboration, improve early-identification practices, create diversion opportunities, and leverage or develop effective, community-based treatment services.
Washtenaw County workshop participants agreed that youth with behavioral health conditions should be diverted from the justice system whenever possible; that no one agency or system could accomplish this work in isolation; and that evidence-based tools and procedures should be used across the juvenile justice continuum--from prevention and diversion activities to treatment programs and post-treatment support systems.
Participants also outlined key values that should guide the work including respect for youth, parents, and families; open, honest, and non-judgmental communications; cultural humility and sensitivity; and youth-centered approaches. And after mapping available community resources, participants outlined a number of unmet needs and opportunities, such as youth supportive housing, after-hours youth and family support services, peer-to-peer networks, first-contact youth assistance practices, and meaningful opportunities to include youth, families, and community members in the planning and implementation work.
In the fall of 2019, the NCYOJ summarized the workshop findings in a full report that maps out the current system in Washtenaw County and highlights major gaps and opportunities. A Youth Systems Alignment committee, including sector leaders in mental health, law enforcement, juvenile justice, youth homelessness, and racial equity, has begun to meet regularly to work on these identified issues.
Community Youth Support Partners
- Corner Health Center
- National Alliance on Mental Illness - Washtenaw County
- National Center for Youth Opportunity and Justice
- Ozone House
- Washtenaw County Children's Services
- Washtenaw County Health Department
- Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office
- Washtenaw Intermediate School District
- Ypsilanti Community Schools
Research from the National Center for Youth Opportunity and Justice (NCYOJ) shows that behavioral health and trauma conditions are consistently higher among youth in the juvenile justice system when compared with the general adolescent population.
Approximately 70 percent of justice-involved youth have a diagnosable mental health condition, compared with 20 percent in the general adolescent population.
More than 75 percent of justice-involved youth have experienced traumatic victimization, compared with 34 percent in the general adolescent population.