By Laura Usher, CIT Program Manager
When a person’s been arrested fourteen times, most people probably assume that he or she is a hardened criminal. Not necessarily so. For the Shelby County, Tenn., jail diversion program The Jericho Project, this is just an average client. The Jericho Project provides an alternative to jail for people with serious mental illness and co-occurring substance abuse who have been arrested and charged with a crime. Many of their clients have cycled in and out of the justice system, homelessness, emergency rooms and other costly emergency services for years without ever getting the treatment and support they need for recovery.
Jericho changes that. Kim Dunlap, a former Jericho client, explains that she finally received the services she needed in the community, “Jericho put together a plan that worked for me. It was court-ordered, but it was for me and [it was] just what I needed.” Dunlap says that having the guidance of a case manager helped her, because she did not know the services available in the community, and she had tried repeatedly to treat her addition, “but I would not stay clean because I wasn’t addressing my mental disorder.”
Now Dunlap works as a Recovery Support Specialist, and her job is to work with Jericho clients to develop their own individualized plans to connect to community services. Plans can connect individuals with a variety of services and supports in the community, including mental health and substance abuse treatment, case management, housing, transportation and benefits. Jericho provides fours of intensive case management assist individuals in linking with this array of services. Dunlap says the plans work because she develops them collaboratively with clients. She says, “It’s their recovery, after all.”
When asked what makes the Jericho Project unique, Shelby County’s Chief Public Defender, Stephen Bush, says, “Unlike many other jail diversion programs, the defendant does not have to plead guilty in order to participate in the program.” Bush explains that the key is the public defender’s office, which manages the program. “The public defender’s job is to protect the individual’s rights, and there is no reason a person with mental illness should have to give up their Constitutional rights to access services.”
Bush explains that so many of their clients have multiple arrests because Jericho doesn’t exclude anyone from the program based on the charges against them. All referrals for the program are considered on a case-by-case basis, and negotiated between the public defender, prosecutor and judge. It’s this process that best protects the client’s interests, because the public defender is on hand to represent them.
For individuals who have cycled in and out jail, a program like Jericho can make all the difference. For Kim Dunlap it can’t be overstated: “The Jericho program saved my life.”
To learn more about Kim’s story and others involved in the Jericho Project, visit Voices of Jericho.
Learn more about the Jericho Project and the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office by visiting their blog, Justcity.org. To learn more about the role of public defenders and how to work with one when you or a loved one are arrested, check out our Q&A with Shelby County Chief Public Defender Stephen Bush: Working with Public Defenders.