An initiative is underway to help King County’s most vulnerable population stay clean and out of jail by streamlining the criminal justice and health and human services system. The collaborative effort called Familiar Faces is rooted in racial equity and social justice. It began its work in 2014.
The program is focused on helping people who have been to jail four or more times in a 12-month period and are suffering from mental health and/or a substance abuse condition. Program Manager LaMont Green said the goal of the initiative is to make access to services more coordinated and easy, as well as diverting people from the criminal justice system.
Under this program, hospitals, jails and courtrooms are considered institutions of last resort. Instead, Familiar Faces is creating a system that is recovery-based where justice isn’t punishment. Familiar Faces will test a number of programs as alternatives to the existing system.
“Currently we recognize that the system is very fragmented,” Green said. “For someone experiencing homelessness, criminal justice involvement, behavioral health issues that the system can be very difficult to navigate.”
To streamline the system, Familiar Faces is a partnership with more than two dozen county and city departments, healthcare providers and a housing provider. They’ve already created an Intensive Care Management team that 30 people are using. The team includes a clinical social worker, occupational therapist plus employment and housing assistance. Green explained why it’s important to streamline services.
“Sometimes people, they have to answer to their parole or probation officer then they have to go here for housing, they have to go here for this, and it’s all fragmented and difficult,” Green said. “Sometime these different plans are pulling them in different places, so there’s one single care plan.”
People who have been through the criminal justice system will work as advisers to clients in the Familiar Faces Initiative. They are people who share similar experiences to those the county wants to help. Turina James is an adviser and is excited about the potential positive impact of the initiative. She’s a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program graduate and is clean after relapsing twice over more than two decades. She said most people want help.
“I think everyone deserves a second chance. A third chance, a fourth chance if that’s what it takes provided they’re trying. I believe that everyone deserves that next chance,” James said. “It’s important to be around people who have walked in your shoes and have been able to come above it.”
In addition, they are working to expand the LEAD program across all parts of the county.
Green is also excited about a Prosecutorial Resource Diversion Program. He said prosecutors are working with case management and social services staff to take care of outstanding warrants. He said research shows 40 percent of warrants are issued because of noncompliance with an existing court order.
“When you’re experiencing homelessness and you’re experiencing all these other issues that you’re struggling with it’s very hard to be compliant with some of those requirements,” said Green, who was homeless himself in San Francisco after serving in the military nearly 20 years ago.
James said targeting recidivism is important.
“Jail doesn’t work. Not for addicts. It just doesn’t work; it doesn’t help,” James said. “Most of us get angry and upset and then rebel. They get out and rebel.”