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Conference looks at current and future relationship with legal system

As criminal justice reform gains momentum, Places for People staff members took a day this week to step back and review ways the organization currently intersects with the legal system, and take the first steps toward planning how that might look in the future.

Twenty-eight members of Places for People program leadership team, including executives, program directors, team leaders and other specialists, gathered on Tuesday at the St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center to review the current landscape at a macro- and micro-level, and also to consider the future of how community behavioral health intersects with the legal system.

How will Places for People respond to that urgency?

Joe Yancey

“How will Places for People respond to that urgency?” Executive Director Joe Yancey asked in his introduction to the conference.

As Samantha Stangl, Programs Manager at Clark-Fox Family Foundation, pointed out in a presentation about mass incarceration, 2.7 million children currently have a parent who is incarcerated. The experience for those children is often marked by trauma, stigma and shame.

To help providers in our region know where to turn for resources, the Clark-Fox Family Foundation has developed an St. Louis Regional Criminal Justice Resource ecosystem map.

JAson Watson of Mission: St. LouisJason Watson, Director of the Beyond Jobs program at Mission: St. Louis, gave a powerful first-hand account as he spoke about justice, equity and empowerment.

Seeing traumatic events causes youth and young adults to turn off their emotions. “You become numb to experiences,” he said.

Watson pointed toward three factors that have a huge impact on crime: poverty/economy, education, and incarcerated parents.

In the afternoon session of the conference, the focus turned inward as staff members looked at the Places for People’s current role in the legal system.

Currently, Places for People intentionally intersects with the legal system in four areas.

“Project Success”

Project Success, funded by the St. Louis Mental Health Board, offers jail diversion opportunities for individuals involved in the legal system who would benefit from short-term case management and mental health supports.

The opportunity to participate in the Project Success program is offered to individuals on probation or parole, or individuals with non-violent offenses. Participants must be St. Louis City residents or have charges pending in the city. Places for People Outreach Specialists attend the Friday docket.

Project Success provides six months of brief case management, which includes providing a connection to a primary care physician, therapy, a psychiatric evaluation, medication support and management, substance use treatment, and assistance to accessing needed resources. In this program, Places for People partners with UMSL to provide access to therapy services.
Places for People also helps Project Success participants navigate the court system.

Once participants complete the six months they are discharged from the program. In some instances, participants enroll into longer term services at Places for People.


Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) Team

The FACT Team is the only Forensic ACT Treatment team in Missouri, and one of three in the country. Every individual has some legal component to his or her treatment. This usually consists of involvement in Department of Mental Health or past institutionalization, primarily due to Not Guilty for Reason of Insanity, and currently on a conditional release, or previous time spent in the Department of Corrections for municipal or federal misdemeanor or felony charges, and currently on probation or parole.

Program participants receive the highest intensity of care available, with access to an employment specialist, substance use specialist, mental health specialist, nurse practitioner, nurse, and more. One position that sets the team apart from other ACT teams is a Forensic Specialist who acts as the main liaison between the team, individual and all legal partners. The forensic specialist attends court hearings, Parole Office appointments, SLPRC Forensic Review Committee meetings, and more.

The FACT Team does its own outreach, and receives referrals from SLPRC, MPC, St. Louis City Drug Court, St. Louis City Wellness Docket, St. Louis City Justice Center, St. Louis County Mental Health Court, St. Louis County Jail, and MSI.

Individuals served by the FACT Team can “graduate” from this service or transition to a lower intensity of care.


Youth and Family Services

Places for People’s Youth and Family Services program has three main roles with the juvenile legal system:

  • Providing treatment services
  • Offering support and collaboration
  • Advocacy and participation in system improvement efforts

The current youth and family services program at Places for People has its roots in the legal system when Community Alternatives established the Multisystemic Therapy (MST) program with funding from SAMHSA and the St. Louis Mental Health Board’s Juvenile Justice Initiative in 1999.

MST engages youth who are involved in the legal system. MST is a comprehensive and intensive behavioral health service for youth who experience multiple issues on many levels and are at the highest risk of being taken out of his or her home due to delinquency, conflict or violence in the home, or poorly managed mental and behavioral health issues. MST uses all of a youth’s natural support systems – family, school, community – to support the individual. Treatments are individualized for each participant and delivered in natural settings. Services are available 24/7 and involve multiple contacts per week for 3-5 months.

In addition to MST Services, Places for People provides Family Outreach and Community Services through a grant from the St. Louis County Children’s Services Fund. This program provides increased support for the entire family, and places an emphasis on coordinating efforts across systems to address barriers to access and engagement.

Youth and Family staff are helping to inform change in our community by participating in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and the Mental Health Board’s “Systems of Care” initiative, as well as the Violence Prevention Coalition. Each of these community partnerships explore alternatives to detention, and ways to increase the availability and effectiveness of care for youth and families.


Advisory Role

Places for People also interfaces with the legal system at the overall system and structural change level by participating in numerous committees, including the City of St. Louis Criminal Justice Coordinating Council’s Public Health Committee, the St. Louis Provider Network meetings, and collaborations with targeted public health conveners such as Integrated Health Network and Behavioral Health Network of Greater St. Louis, as we know the systemic reforms will take collaboration and partnership across professional communities.

Since the Supreme Court Ruling initiated via Dixon vs. City of St. Louis in June 2019, Places for People staff members spent the first months of the new pretrial process in court, providing advice to the weekly presiding judges, defense council, and circuit attorneys. Information was provided to the legal system staff regarding services available to participants in the daily Bond Docket, in an attempt to shed light on the available community resources that could benefit those recent arrestees, to achieve better quality of life, provide treatment access, and with the intention of reducing legal recidivism. Of the cases observed in those initial months, 10% of individuals who were released on their own personal recognizance were given a condition to complete a screening for services at Places for People.

Executive Director Joe Yancey has also been a member of the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Diversion Advisory Committee.

The conference ended with an interactive session facilitated by Jacki Langum, Director of Advocacy at ArchCity Defenders. The goal of the session was to envision what Places for People’s role in the legal system might be in the future.

For more information about Places for People’s treatment programs and how we help people living with mental illness and substance use disorders, visit the How We Help page.