In recent years, policymakers and other leaders have established new systems intended to divert people experiencing mental health crises away from the criminal legal system before an arrest occurs. While there is some research supporting the effectiveness of police-mental health collaboration models, the evidence is mixed and very little is known about long-term outcomes. Additionally, a lack of rigorous evaluation of 911 dispatch diversion programs specifically represents a significant gap in knowledge in this area.
MDRC’s Tucson Mental Health Diversion (TMHD) project is a five-year retrospective study assessing the impact of the dispatch diversion program in Tucson, Arizona. In collaboration with Dr. Margie Balfour of Connections Health Solutions and the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the study compares the criminal justice contact and treatment engagement outcomes of individuals whose 911 crisis calls are diverted to the Pima County Crisis Center via the 911 crisis call center with those who receive a traditional 911 response.
A combined suite of impact, benefit-cost, and process studies of an emerging 911 dispatch diversion model, TMHD’s findings should offer important guidance for policymakers seeking to understand “what works” in the field of pre-arrest diversion of individuals with mental and behavioral health issues.