The pain point of mental health and criminal justice is where we as a culture make some of the most egregious errors. Many communities are beginning to change that culture by prioritizing Care Not Cuffs.
We want to acknowledge district attorneys, sheriffs, police chiefs, mayors, and commissioners who are dedicated to shifting the country away from mass incarceration and toward health, prosperity, and justice for all. These heroes are shaping the landscape we’d like to see—prioritizing health promotion, disease prevention, a clinical response to mental health needs, pathways to health care for people who need them—and showing how public safety partners can be valuable co-advocates for realizing these outcomes.
Care Not Cuffs in Our Schools
Children’s disruptive behavior is often an indicator of a mental health need rather than an inclination to delinquency and criminality. School staff should be well-trained in recognizing and supporting children’s developmental needs.
- There is widespread recognition that the educational, developmental, and fiscal harms of harsh disciplinary practices far outweigh the benefits in most instances. Padres Y Jovenes Unidos is leading the national movement to end the school-to-prison pipeline. The organization created a report card for Denver Public Schools to track the utilization of harsh disciplinary practices. According to Padres Y Jovenes Unidos, “No longer can a school or a district claim ignorance about the harmful effects or the habitual misuse of ‘zero-tolerance’ discipline.” The key findings in the report cards help uncover promising practices and examples of effective educational accountability while highlighting areas for improvement and the deeper systemic issues that still need to be addressed. More about ending the school to jail track.
- According to an ACLU analysis, 1.7 million students in the U.S. attend schools with police officers, but no counselors. The school board in Minneapolis voted to terminate its contract with the police department, and Portland Public Schools is discontinuing the presence of school resource officers (SROs) to increase spending on counselors and social workers. The Alliance for Educational Justice is working with organizers in about 20 cities to push their school districts to take similar action, including Philadelphia, Phoenix, Chicago, New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. It is too soon to have definitive data establishing that removing SROs from schools results in better health outcomes and decreased criminal justice involvement for students—but that is the expectation. These are important conversations that are underway all over the country—we continue to monitor these developments.
- The kinds of resources that kids need are not necessarily police-related. Denver has begun phasing police out of schools by eliminating 3 officer positions. The Denver school board unanimously passed the directive. Data shows Denver’s Black students are disproportionately funneled into the criminal justice system through tickets and arrests at school. In addition to eliminating school resource officers, the school board resolution directed the superintendent to work with community members to craft a district policy that ensures students will no longer be ticketed, arrested, or referred to law enforcement “unless there are no other available alternatives for addressing imminent threats of serious harm.”
Care Not Cuffs in Community Policing
Many policing agencies include something about “protecting and serving” in their mission statements. Community policing that exemplifies the Care Not Cuffs philosophy is based on an understanding that keeping the peace is paramount and that police are at one with rather than at odds with the communities they serve. Police agencies that provide care not cuffs should pride themselves on fewer arrests and track days without injury or use of force the way that construction sites track days without injury
- The NYPD implements Neighborhood Policing, a comprehensive crime-fighting strategy built on improved communication and collaboration between local police officers and community residents. The same officers work in the same neighborhoods on the same shifts, increasing their familiarity with local residents and local problems. Learn more here.
- Police recruits in Washington undergo a style of training at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission where the goal is to produce “guardians of democracy” who serve and protect instead of “warriors” who conquer and control. According to the Washington Post, Sue Rahr, the former sheriff of King County, is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on this type of training. Rahr co-wrote, “From Warriors to Guardians: Recommitting American Police Culture to Democratic Ideals,” which warns that too many academies are training police officers to go to “war with the people we are sworn to protect and serve.” The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, of which Rahr is a member, has embraced many of the principles in the report. Learn more about building guardians to create a better community
- The Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) is a nonprofit organization of police, judges, and prosecutors who speak from firsthand experience in support of harm reduction, drug policy reform, and other changes to the criminal justice system. LEAP Speakers—all of whom have worked in law enforcement—write, consult, and meet with advocacy groups, legislators, fellow officers, the media, and the public to craft and support policies that make our communities safer and more just.
- The Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative (PAARI) provides training, strategic guidance, support, and resources to help law enforcement agencies nationwide create non-arrest pathways to treatment and recovery. PAARI was founded as a nonprofit to help law enforcement agencies create non-arrest programs that prevent and reduce overdose deaths and expand access to treatment and recovery.
Care Not Cuffs in Crisis Response
Calling 9-1-1 for a mental health emergency often results in a law enforcement response and a significantly heightened risk of injuries and fatalities. A mental health crisis is a medical emergency that deserves the same level of response as a heart attack or stroke. Care Not Cuffs in crisis response is providing a health-based response to health care needs, reducing the stigma and harm that result from law enforcement engagement.
- Eugene, Oregon developed CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets), an innovative community-based public safety system to provide mental health first response for crises involving mental illness, homelessness, and addiction. The program mobilizes two-person teams consisting of a medic and a crisis worker who has substantial training and experience in the mental health field. CAHOOTS staff are not law enforcement officers and do not carry weapons; their training and experience are the tools they use to ensure a non-violent resolution of crisis situations.
- Denver’s Support Team Assisted Response, or STAR, exists to divert some 911 calls away from armed officers to a paramedic and a social worker. The idea is to replace police in matters that don’t threaten public safety and are often connected to unmet health needs. The goal is to connect people who pose no danger with services and resources while freeing up police to respond to other calls.
- Project EDGE (“Early Diversion, Get Engaged”) in Boulder, CO was created to support law enforcement on mental health calls. The program pairs behavioral health clinicians with police officers that have undergone specialized Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). At the scene of a police contact, the team utilizes crisis intervention and de-escalation. When possible, the team makes referrals for treatment to keep people out of the criminal justice system. They also provide resources and follow-up.
Care Not Cuffs in the Justice System
Care Not Cuffs in the Justice system is often too little, too late. But justice system leaders stand out for their efforts to identify unmet mental health needs and to provide pathways to care, recovery, and community integration rather than criminalization and incarceration.
- Denver District Attorney Beth McCann launched a pilot program to change the way the city handles some young adults charged with crimes. The program is designed to help young people escape the consequences that accompany a criminal record, such as difficulties securing financial opportunities, finding housing, gaining employment, and sometimes the right to vote. The primary goals of adult and juvenile diversion are to prevent further contact with the police and criminal justice system, address underlying issues that led to the offense, and provide a cost-saving alternative to traditional prosecution.
- In an effort to divert people with mental health concerns away from the criminal justice system, Miami-Dade County closed a jail facility—saving taxpayers $12 million per year—and dramatically reduced the number of shootings and injuries of people with mental illnesses. Since Miami-Dade County launched their diversion initiative in 2000, 6,500 law enforcement officers have received crisis intervention training. In nine years, the Miami-Dade Police Department and the City of Miami Police Department have responded to nearly 72,000 mental health crisis calls—resulting in 38,000 diversions to crisis units and just 138 arrests. As Miami has proven, providing access to effective care for people will yield better public safety and better public health outcomes than our current failed system of endlessly cycling people through criminal courts, jails, and prisons.
- Colorado launched its Bridges Program to improve communication and collaboration between the criminal justice and behavioral health systems to help ensure defendants who need mental health services have access to them. In approving the program, the state recognized that people with mental health and substance use disorders are over-represented in the criminal justice system and are at significantly greater risk than the general public of becoming involved in the system and having harsher consequences. Through the Bridges Program, the General Assembly strives to promote more positive outcomes for these individuals.
Care Not Cuffs in Corrections
Based on the nation’s high recidivism rates, corrections is too often a euphemism for what actually occurs in our prisons. Care Not Cuffs in corrections are practices that meet health and developmental needs so that adults in custody maintain a steady trajectory of improved health and behaviors over the course of their confinement—preparing them to return to their communities successfully.
- The Oregon Department of Corrections has made significant progress to provide the highest level of care for the people housed in the Behavioral Health Unit located at the Oregon State Penitentiary. Over the last several years, they have increased available treatment and outdoor recreational space, increased security and treatment staffing, and collaborated with experts on mental health treatment. These efforts have been made to create a more humanized environment. The results? 95% of the adults in custody will return to Oregon’s communities upon release.
- Traditional thinking about corrections is making prisons so miserable that no one ever wants to return. Dean Williams, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, disagrees with this philosophy. Williams believes that life behind prison walls should be less traumatic, according to a Westword article. Colorado has proposed measures such as “making prisons look more aesthetically pleasing, using offenders to work with other offenders as mentors or to lead groups, and having offenders cook their own meals.” The state also outlines goals to ensure that parolees have stable housing and that more are employed upon their release.
Williams also focuses on an “essential component” of reforming the criminal justice system: the relationship between correctional officers and inmates. Williams: “We’re trying to reduce the us-versus-them, which lives long and well in the prison system. My staff are spending many hours, huge portions of their life, behind the walls with a population that has not a lot of other people to visit with other than other inmates. So the idea of an officer being not just a guard, but a role model, is hugely impactful.”
Care Not Cuffs in Re-Entry
When people with mental health concerns can leave prison and return to their communities healthy and ready to lead productive lives, we all live in a better world. Care Not Cuffs efforts lower barriers to reentry, making it easier for people to find housing, employment, re-engagement with their families and their communities, as well as other supports and services which enable them to thrive and contribute.
- The Fortune Society in New York City advocates for alternatives to incarceration. They employ a “one-stop-shop” model of service provision, offering in-house services to over 8,000 individuals with justice involvement. They help individuals with justice involvement rebuild their lives through innovative services and advocacy. Their Alternatives to Incarceration programs have saved taxpayers over $12 million.
- The Second Chance Center in Colorado is dedicated to helping the formerly incarcerated successfully transition into society with proper education, support, and resources. Hassan A. Latif founded Second Chance Center in 2012, and it has grown to become the preeminent reentry agency in Colorado, maintaining a recidivism rate of under 9 % for participants involved in the program.
- Colorado’s Work and Gain Education & Employment Skills (WAGEES) program, led by the Latino Coalition for Community Leadership, works with faith-based non-profits to integrate people returning from prison back into community.