Don’t Eliminate Diversion Program

PAPAS: Don’t eliminate Diversion Program

By Paul N. Papas II

Thu Nov 06, 2008, 3:14pm

FRAMINGHAM –

Sometimes it is better to sweep clean and start anew, it is a matter of judgment. Sometimes we need to make tough decisions, choosing between rent or food or medication. If we had our way wouldn’t we want to reduce our spending and receive the same or better services?

If you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got, nothing will change. If you’re stuck thinking inside the box, nothing will change.

Let’s look at the wheel. Someone who thought outside the box had a good idea and invented the wheel. Take a look around and see how often we use the wheel. Same thing with the invention of fire, how often do we use it?

Let’s look at our budget. Most people, just like our governments, have had to tighten their belts and re-evaluate how we spend our money. In this process we look at everything we spend our money on to see how it really benefits us, then weigh it against other possibilities. Sometimes an item we usually buy seems, at first, to be something we can eliminate, then after a closer look we find that it is actually a better bargain. I have found one such bargain in the state budget that is slated to be eliminated and that is the Framingham Jail Diversion Program.

The Framingham Jail Diversion Program (JDP) was the first in the state and is a model for replication of other JDP’s in the Commonwealth. It is designed to keep nonviolent offenders who have a mental illness out of jails and instead allow them to get treatment.

Two good reasons to keep this program funded are: (1) it works; (2) and it costs far less than incarcerating these offenders.

Mental health assistance for incarcerated people is far less effective than what is available outside of prisons or jails and the costs to taxpayers is far greater to incarcerate people. That to me is a waste of tax dollars.

The funding for the Framingham JDP affects other similar programs in Marlboro, Waltham, and Watertown. That means there are many people, not just Framingham residents, who would be affected by eliminating Framingham JDP funding.

The cost to taxpayers would actually increase by eliminating this program.

The elimination of the Framingham JDP would also have a devastating affect on veteran’s services. This year the Commonwealth’s Department of Mental Health included a proposal to enhance jail diversion services to include trauma-sensitive services and improve outreach and treatment for returning Iraq and Afghanistan vets.

The town of Framingham has a disproportionately high number of vets eligible for this program. The number is expected to grow because many vets are serving more than three tours. The JDP was articulated as a critical part of the infrastructure of this DMH proposal.

Whether vets or not the JDP identifies eligible people at the point of contact with the First Responder gives the police more latitude in their response and reduces costs to taxpayers.

The JDP gets people help who need it, reduces costs to taxpayers while at the same time reduces the Court workload.

I see funding the JDP as a way to reduce our spending and receive better services. This program is tried and tested and is the model for the rest of the Commonwealth because it works.

It may not be as simple as the wheel or fire, but sure is just as basic. A person who is acting out in a non-violent manner because of a mental illness really needs help. If someone is willing to accept the help and abide by the guidelines of the JDP why would you punish them for having a medical issue? Would you punish someone who caused an accident because they had a heart attack? Both are medical issues, both should be treated as such.

The list of mental illnesses is not small, but the stigma involved remains a large obstacle. I don’t know of anyone who woke up one day and decided to develop a treatable medical condition of a mental illness or a medical condition of a broken arm or heart attack.

We have HMOs and other preventative measures to reduce medical insurance costs. The JDP should be looked at a similar way, as a preventative way to reduce costs to taxpayers.

Pay less and get more by restoring funding to the Framingham Jail Diversion Program.

Rev Paul N. Papas II is a Pastoral Counselor with Narrow Path Ministries and the current president of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Greater Framingham.

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