New Jail Diversion Program Garnering Success in Boroughs

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Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Community Advocate
November 19, 2019

Many times when law enforcement answers a call, it is not a straightforward situation. There may be stressful family dynamics or a person with an emotional, mental health or substance abuse issue at play.

In many of these situations, taking the person into custody is not the best answer for the problem at hand. That’s where the Jail Diversion program, overseen by Advocates, Inc., in conjunction with several different police departments, comes in.

Advocates is an agency that partners with individuals, families, and communities to provide solutions to life challenges. They work with a vast array of clients, of all age groups and situations, and help those with addictions, mental health, family and caregiver support, to name just a few.

The Jail Diversion program pairs police officers with master-level trained clinicians who ride along on all calls involving a mental health or substance related crisis. They provide de-escalation, crisis stabilization assessment and evaluation services.

Christina Fitton is a clinician who has been working with the Northborough, Southborough and Westborough police departments.

“Our first full month was in May and it was immediately very successful,” she remarked. “All of the officers have been very receptive…”

In Northborough, Police Chief William Lyver and Lieutenant Joseph Galvin agreed that from day one, Fitton’s work has made a difference.

Fitton said that the program does more than simply divert individuals from jail.  She is equipped to help with traffic stops and with more delicate tasks including assisting with death notifications.

“When the police go on a death notification call I can sit with the family.  The police don’t have the time or the resources to do that so I am able to help them make phone calls, help them process and just be somebody to sit there and provide support in those first few critical hours,” she said.

Sheena Mahoney, a licensed social worker with Advocates, further explained.

“We are a resource to the police in every community that we serve and we have the benefit of having access to the health system and police system to see where they are intersecting and figuring out where we can be most helpful,” she said.

She noted that one of the biggest benefits to municipalities utilizing their program is the reduction of costly and unnecessary referrals to hospital emergency rooms by providing treatment-based alternatives.

Fitton said many calls to the police departments are from those seeking social service assistance. A clinician such as herself can provide assistance to police officers with resources they might not have readily available such as for housing or insurance queries.

A wellness check is one of the more common types of calls that she attends. People or physicians will call in seeking a check on a relative or patient to make sure they are okay.

When a call comes in Fitton is able to immediately assess when her skills will be needed. She will ride alongside the police officers when she is needed on a call.

While she rotates her time among the three towns, if there is an emergency in another town, accommodation can be made to get her to where she needs to be.

Fitton noted that the primary goal is to make sure people are safe and that they get what they need whether its treatment or connection with a proper resource.

The Framingham based organization is supported by grants through the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, and private donations. For more information visit: https://www.advocates.org/services/jail-diversion.