FARMINGTON — People picked up by police for behavioral problems are no longer certain to go straight to jail in Davis County.

Welcome, instead, to the receiving center, staffed by nurses and other medical personnel rather than uniformed jail deputies.

“Urgent care for behavioral health,” said Brandon Hatch, describing the genesis and purpose of the new program at the Davis County justice complex in Farmington.

Davis Behavioral Health, where Hatch is CEO, launched the pilot program this week in cooperation with the Davis County Sheriff’s Office.

It’s the first of its kind in Utah, Hatch said — a place to take perpetrators of minor crimes often related to substance abuse or mental health problems.

He gave the example of a shoplifter stealing to support a drug habit or someone arrested for possession of illegal substances or drug paraphernalia.

Such low-level offenders are clogging Utah’s jails, which helps to perpetuate recidivism and slows systemic efforts to promote treatment instead of incarceration.

“This is for minor kinds of crime, someone needing some mental health treatment or drug abuse treatment,” said Sheriff Kelly Sparks. “Rather than book them in jail, we get them connected immediately to treatment programs.”

Such an offender as a result doesn’t leave with an arrest record and the attendant hindrance to getting jobs and housing, Sparks said.

“We fix the public safety problem and we’re getting them treatment,” the sheriff said. “This will reduce the number of people coming into the jail that do not need to be there.”

The program is voluntary. If an arrestee doesn’t want to seek treatment, the jail is next door.

“This is a right up front diversion program,” Sparks said. “This will really help them get the treatment they need without having an arrest record, if they are willing to complete it.”

If a participant fails to follow through, the original arrest will be completed and the person booked into jail.

Hatch said the Layton and Bountiful police departments are participating in the program’s initial phase. Officers will work with receiving center staff on the process of deciding which suspects warrant being dropped off there.

In the center, nursing staff will be available around the clock to do immediate evaluations and verify an arrestee’s safety, Hatch said.

Psychiatric and medical doctors will be on call, doing video evaluations if needed, and therapists and peer counselors will be available, Hatch said.

Arrivals may be kept for 24 to 72 hours for detoxification or to otherwise be stabilized in their crisis and be linked to treatment, with appointments set up.

The receiving center also is intended to be a resource for family members worried about a troubled relative.

“For someone acting out in mental health symptoms, the ER may not be the best place, and they can go to this location,” Hatch said.

Two related programs involving the Davis jail started earlier this year.

First, the jail converted an unused office outside the jail booking area where all arrestees are now evaluated by a nurse before being taken into the jail for booking by corrections deputies.

Previously, deputies gave the initial health questionnaires. Because of fear of additional charges, some inmates withdrawing from drugs avoided disclosing their conditions, Sparks said.

A nurse doing the initial screening outside the jail reduces that problem.

Meanwhile, a multiagency committee has begun working to improve outcomes in the jail, Sparks said.

The panel includes the sheriff, the county attorney, the public defender’s office, a county commissioner, a legislator, plus people from pretrial services and Davis Behavioral Health.

Sparks said the committee is in an exploration phase, looking for best practices. Areas of study include how to route interested inmates to job training programs during incarceration and after.

“We are looking at other reentry programs so that when someone is released from jail it’s kind of a warm handoff,” Sparks said.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

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