At the most recent Equitas Course Corrections Summit held on March 22 and 23, Sheriff Tom Dart from Cook County, Illinois, shared observations and troubling statistics regarding the incarceration of mentally ill people in both Chicago and in Washington, D.C., with a group of stakeholders from Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The sheriff runs what is known as the largest mental institution in the country – The Cook County Jail. At the event, Sheriff Dart laid out the ways in which our management of this vulnerable population is illogical, expensive, and yields poor outcomes. That is why Dart does things differently. He has succeeded in working around seemingly insurmountable barriers to improving the lot of those in his custody. Just how? “The common thread is caring.”
Keynote Speaker Sheriff Dart was not the only eloquent critic and innovative reformer in the conference room of the National Association of Counties’ new building in the heart of Washington, D.C., where the event was held. Sheriff Stacey Kincaid with Fairfax County, Virginia, whose Diversion First program and other efforts have garnered the country’s attention, posed this analogy: “You wouldn’t take a car to a dentist to get fixed. Why would you use a jail for mental health treatment?”
In the U.S. today, mass incarceration is the primary default solution to all social problems. “How did we get here?” asked Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. “Changes in policies, not changes in crime rates.” The key community leaders convened at the Summit represented national and local organizations working along a multi-sector community health continuum toward a common goal of ensuring public safety and developing more efficient and holistic responses to the needs of community members with behavioral health and other vulnerabilities. These stakeholders showed up because they care passionately about these issues and because they know that collaboration and communication provide the avenue for change. As Vincent Atchity, Executive Director of Equitas framed it, we need to state where we want to get to as a society and then make little adjustments, or course corrections, to get there. “Little tweaks can cue ripple effects.”
In an effort to identify those “little tweaks,” the group convened over the course of a day and a half, with learning, discussion, and working sessions interspersed throughout both days. These gave participants an opportunity to identify their top priorities, strategies toward realizing those goals, partners to recruit, and timelines for action. Now, over the course of the next several weeks, Equitas and Course Corrections: Mid-Atlantic Summit participants will produce a document laying out these necessary adjustments to help Mid-Atlantic communities refocus attention on the root contributors to the status quo and define next steps toward their shared goals.
A recent, exciting outcome of the event was the development of the Course Corrections: Mid-Atlantic Summit Compendium of resources now available for review on Equitas’ website. Summit participants and visitors to the site can learn more about the work of fellow participants, presenters, and other regional players at the intersection of behavioral health and criminal justice. Equitas will continue to update the compendium with resources and encourage additional contributions from our Mid-Atlantic partners.
Participating organizations included:
19th Judicial District Virginia, American Bar Association, American Psychological Association, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Baltimore City Health Department, Catholic Mobilizing Network, Charles Koch Institute, Cheshire County Department of Corrections, Colorado Department Human Services, Community Connections, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Council for Court Excellence, Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for the District of Columbia, CSG Justice Center, DC Central Kitchen, DC City Council, DC Reentry Task Force, Disability Rights DC, District of Columbia Department of Health Care Finance, District of Columbia Department of Small and Local Business Development, Equitas, Fairfax County Government, Fairfax County Police Department, Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, Fairfax County Supervisor, Fairfax Public Defender’s Office, Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, Free Minds Book Club, Georgetown University Prisons and Justice Initiative, Give an Hour, Homeward, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, Major County Sheriffs’ Association, Merage Foundations, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Counties, National Disability Rights Network, Pathways to Housing DC, Police Executive Research Forum, Pretrial Justice Institute, The Sentencing Project, Treatment Advocacy Center, Urban Institute
To learn more about the event, visit our website.