Dec. 2020 Meeting, part 1: Hennepin County Justice Behavioral Health Initiative [preliminary report]

[Link to Zoom recording posted on Youtube at bottom of page]

In January, 2020, 2-PAC heard a presentation about the MPD Co-Responder program, which paired a professional mental health worker with an officer to respond to 911 calls answering people in mental health crisis. Thanks to Covid-19, this program has changed a lot since January.  I understand from Nick Juarez they are still “responding” but are now in a central office, NOT in the Precinct.  If so, clients still have a path to get into treatment at once, on the basis of the mental health worker’s ability to cut red tape.  Clients also still have a professional doing follow up with them and their families or S.O.s.  

When I heard about the changes, I contacted the Hennepin County Justice Behavioral Health Initiative, which administers this program in several suburbs and also covers the HCJ.    Leah Kaiser,  Senior  Administrator  in the Hennepin County Dept. of Behavioral Health to tell us how this program is being run in the time of Covid-19.  

However, last Wednesday she had to send me regrets that neither she nor a colleague could make it, but asked if we could reschedule after the first of the year. 

We can do that because this is the kind of program I think the Mpls City Council is working at designing.   It’s informative for us to look at a program in operation so we have something to hold up in comparison with the ideas coming out of City Hall. 

In the HC Justice Behavioral website I found and picked out the barest outline of their program, which I’m presenting here.  When I first came across this website, it sounded so much like the kind of program the City Council is talking about building.   I hope it provides the same kind of enlightenment for you.  

I also hope that you will look at this and start thinking about questions to ask Ms Kaiser when she makes it in to 2-PAC.   We should be able to get more in depth clarifications from her if we already understand the basics of the Hennepin County Behavioral Health Initiative.

The first reference is the source of my outline, which I followed pretty closely.

After that is a list of newspaper articles and similar releases about parts of the program, progress they’ve achieved, and a few snags.

So: summarizing from the website: 

The traditional criminal justice system is not sufficiently responsive to clients who have mental and chemical health needs. …  Similarly, the behavioral health system is not designed to serve people who are also involved in the criminal justice process.These mismatches end up costing both the health care and criminal justice system too much money for little benefit to the people who need help most. 

In Hennepin County, the Criminal Justice Behavioral Health Initiative is working to break this cycle  … in hopes of creating better outcomes for some of our most vulnerable residents. County programs are drawing on county resources across systems… to focus more effort where it makes most sense in the criminal justice process.Their procedure:  

To foster collaboration among criminal justice, health and human services departments so that law enforcement and judicial professionals will recognize what mental illness looks like.   Only then can they tap effective responses.    Behavioral Health professionals will plan for continued care after a person has been discharged from either the county jail or a correctional facility.  Those professionals will also develop local programs for inmates who have been declared incompetent to stand trial but will also expand alternatives to jail or detention.  They will develop a network of community mental health providers who specialize in working within the criminal justice system. 

Desired outcomes include moving high need clients quickly into better coordinated community based mental health care services.   This should reduce the need for emergency room services and also lower the rate of recidivism. 

Examples of innovations already being developed include:
Integrated access teams which include social workers, chemical health counselors, housing specialists and community health workers who, with the sheriff’s office and the medical staff at Henn. County Jail, ID people who are at high risk to return to jail and who have serious mental health needs.   The team contacts them while they are in jail and stays in contact after release to link them to the set of services they need.  

Crisis intervention training (CIT) for law enforcement so they can better respond to calls where mental illness is a likely factor.  The website states they are pursuing alternative options for dropoff at locations where a person can immediately access mental health assessments, appropriate medication, detox, crisis housing and more.

At the Behavioral Health Center, many disciplines unite to produce a care model that has greater impact than any one approach can yield.     Clients can choose from a menu of options to achieve stability, based on what is most important to them.   At the Behavioral Health Center, clients will be connected to resources they need. 

check here ffi: 

Find more news stories here:

Restorative Court

Co-responder team

Crisis intervention training

Board briefing

—————————Also, someone asked me if I was “just talking about COPE”.   COPE is only one part of this comprehensive plan.

Youtube link from Dec 2PAC:


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