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The Sequential Intercept Model

The Sequential Intercept Model is a framework for understanding how people with mental illness interact with the criminal justice system. The model, which was described by Mark Munetz and Patricia Griffin in 2006 in Psychiatric Services, presents this interaction as a series of points where interventions can be made to prevent a person from entering the justice system or becoming further entangled.

The points of interception include law enforcement and emergency services; initial detention and hearing; jails, courts, forensic evaluation and forensic hospitalizations; reentry from jails, prisons and hospitalization; and community supervision and community support services. According to the model, at each of these points, there are unique opportunities to assist a person in getting appropriate services and preventing further justice involvement.

Without intervention, these stages can become a revolving door – with individuals encountering law enforcement during a crisis, and progressing through the various stages of involvement, until they are released from jail or prison. Without support or intervention during this process, there’s a high likelihood that the individual will ultimately come back into contact with law enforcement during another crisis and repeat the cycle.

Ideally, the best point of intervention is in the community, before law enforcement becomes involved, and treatment needs can best be met through community mental health services. Unfortunately, if these services do not adequately address the needs, a person in crisis may be drawn into the criminal justice system.   Even with adequate community services, a few people may slip through the cracks and encounter police. In a system with appropriate interventions at each intercept, fewer and fewer people will slip through the cracks, so by the time of release from jail and prison, most people should be connected with services to help them recover and prevent further contact with the justice system.

How can Communities use the Sequential Intercept Model?

While many communities have successfully implemented some response to the crisis of criminalization, such as police-based diversions (like CIT) or mental health courts, most communities do not have comprehensive plans that address the entire spectrum of criminal justice involvement. Few communities now meet the ideal, but many are striving to become more responsive and effective by using the model for planning. According to leaders in many communities, the Sequential Intercept Model has helped them move forward in planning a systematic response to the criminalization of mental illness in their communities.

Michele Saunders, a leader of the Florida CIT Coalition, says that the Sequential Intercept Model has been the basis of planning sessions in several Florida communities that helped to “map” the path that a person with mental illness takes through the criminal justice system. Saunders says communities have "mapped the process of a person with mental illness who has contact with the criminal justice system from the point of contact with law enforcement to the time of release from jail or prison." This process helps identify where there currently are opportunities to divert someone out of the justice system, and also where there are gaps in services.

Saunders reports that using the Sequential Intercept Model for planning brings together a very broad group of stakeholders, and helps them work together rather than in isolation to problem-solve. The process builds better relationships between stakeholders, and helps them create a common vision for responding to people with mental illness involved in the criminal justice system. The result is better-coordinated services and more people diverted from the criminal justice system.

Stephen Bush, an attorney with the Shelby County (TN) Public Defender and coordinator of the county’s post-booking jail diversion program, the Jericho Project, agrees that the Sequential Intercept Model has been a useful tool for planning. While
Shelby County has long been known for its pre-booking jail diversion strategies through the Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model, the county has embraced the Sequential Intercept Model as a conceptual framework to develop comprehensive systems to engage persons with mental illness at key points in the interface between mental health and justice systems.

ShelbyCountyhas developed a new strategic plan based on the Sequential Intercept Model which allows them to see where resources are needed and prioritize the types of services and interventions that will be most effective. The model, according to Bush, is helping the county expand beyond relying solely on CIT and respond to people "who are already under parole or probation supervision; at the point of re-entry from local corrections systems; caught deep within the court system; and to gain fast track release of persons shortly after arrest." Says Bush, "This strategy will guide local systems development and capacity expansion for years to come."

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