Decriminalizing Mental Illness

County Attorney Polk is at the forefront of successful efforts in Yavapai County to decriminalize mental illness to ensure that such individuals are linked to services—not sitting in jail. True to her collaborative style, in 2017, she partnered with the county Sheriff to establish Reach Out, a visionary, ground-breaking program that screens individuals who are brought to the jail to identify mental illness and release them to behavioral health services. She serves as an executive board member of the Yavapai Justice and Mental Health Coalition, the group that leads the way to decriminalize mental illness. Polk also supports the Yavapai County Mental Health Court, established in 2013, to connect offenders to needed behavioral health services and monitor their progress.

County Attorney Polk supports partnerships with West Yavapai Guidance Clinic and Spectrum Health on countywide projects in both the Prescott area and the Verde Valley to link individuals to professional care and keep them out of jail, such as the creation of Mobile Crisis Teams and the Crisis Stabilization Unit. Mobile Crisis Teams consist of behavioral health professionals who respond to the scene of an encounter between a police officer and a person exhibiting signs of mental illness. Most of the time, these individuals are stabilized in the community and an arrest is averted.

The Crisis Stabilization Unit CCSU) opened its doors in Prescott Valley in 2017. The CSU gives a police officer who encounters a person experiencing a mental health crisis an alternative to taking the person to jail. At the CSU, patients are stabilized, treated, and connected to more permanent treatment. County Attorney Polk’s office participates in training police officers across the county in Crisis Intervention Training, 40 hours of intense training about the causes, effects, and treatment of mental illness, and de-escalation skills to keep patients out of jail and in treatment. County Attorney Polk further supports Mental Health First Aid, an 8-hour course to teach law enforcement, first responders, teachers, and citizens to identify a developing mental health crisis and how to respond.

The results to date are remarkable. Since its inception, 1,541 arrests have been diverted from the jail and 3,289 emergency room visits have been avoided. This has directly saved the Yavapai County Jail more than $3.7 million in incarceration costs. As a combined result of the Reach Out Program, Mobile Crisis Teams, the CSU, and Crisis Intervention Training, the Yavapai County Jail population has declined over the past three years.

Emergency Room Visits Avoided

Arrests Diverted

Yavapai County Jail Savings ($)

For County Attorney Polk’s visionary and collaborative efforts to decriminalize mental illness, she received the David’s Hope Mental Health Criminal Justice Collaboration Award in 2018. County Attorney Polk was awarded the 2020 Arizona Rural Health Association’s Outstanding Elected Official Award.