NAU researchers partner with Coconino County Attorney’s Office to develop criminal justice deflection and diversion infrastructure

Two researchers talking

In Coconino County, individuals are admitted to jail twice as often per year as the national average, with about 3,093 per 100,000 people per year admitted to Coconino County Detention Facility (CCDF).

To address the incarceration rate, Northern Arizona University faculty members are collaborating with Coconino County Attorney’s Office to analyze the most effective methods in creating a comprehensive diversionary program—including housing, behavioral health and job training—to successfully reduce incarcerations at CCDF.

The NARBHA Foundation funded the study, which is led by principal investigator Ricky Camplain, assistant professor in NAU’s Center for Health Equity Research (CHER) and Department of Health Sciences. Co-investigators on the study include Carolyn Camplain, senior program coordinator with CHER; Linnea Evans, assistant professor with CHER and the Department of Health Sciences; Robin Hebert, student in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice; and Juliette Roddy, The NARBHA Institute James Wurger MD Chair of Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health in NAU’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Through the project, titled “The Need for Diversion Programs from the Criminal Justice System in Coconino County: Creating a Health and Human Services Infrastructure Where There Is None,” the NAU researchers will:

  • Describe current criminal justice deflection and diversion infrastructure in Coconino
  • Identify successful criminal justice deflection and diversion programs in Arizona, the Southwest region and the United States.
  • Determine deflection and diversion service needs among organizations working with the Coconino County criminal justice system and Coconino County community members.

“We are so unique in Coconino County that we need a really tailored plan,” Ricky Camplain said.

Along with the Coconino County Attorney, NAU researchers will partner with a variety of housing organizations, behavioral health providers, job training programs and criminal justice system institutions. Local organizations include the Coconino County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, Northern Arizona Healthcare, Catholic Charities, Flagstaff Shelter Services, Native Americans for Community Action (NACA), The Guidance Center, Goodwill, Flagstaff Police Department, Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, the probation and parole office and the court system.

“Proposing solutions to complex issues that involve multiple service sectors, such as criminal justice, health, housing and job training, require the coordination and input from many agencies,” Roddy said. “The City of Flagstaff and Coconino County nonprofit and government agencies have demonstrated successful partnerships previously, so we know this can be done.  This effort simply focuses on deflection and diversion.”

The researchers also will examine successful programs throughout Arizona, such as Yavapai County’s Reach Out program and the Housing First model in Tucson, and other programs throughout the country.

Initial findings

In their preliminary preparation investigation, the NAU researchers found that of the individuals admitted to CCDF, 40 percent are readmitted and 4 percent have more than 10 readmissions.

They found that individuals incarcerated at CCDF experience poorer physical, mental and behavioral health compared to the general population. They found that 36 percent had hypertension, 18 percent had high cholesterol, 15 percent had asthma and 12 percent had diabetes or prediabetes.

Of the individuals sampled at CCDF, 26 percent said they had been told by a medical professional that they had post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to an estimated 3.6 percent in the general U.S. population.

Additionally, 20 percent indicated they had bipolar disorder, compared to 2.8 percent in the general U.S. population, and 11 percent indicated they had schizophrenia, compared to less than 1 percent in the general U.S. population.

More than 80 percent of individuals sampled at CCDF also indicated they had used marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin, while 76 percent of individuals reported using alcohol in the 30 days prior to admission to CCDF.

“The criminal justice system in the United States has a reputation for incarcerating individuals with substance use or mental health issues or both,” Carolyn Camplain said. “These striking statistics emphasize the need for alternative services or additional services at CCDF as a holistic approach to reducing the incarceration rate.”

Evans said the high rates of incarceration, mental and behavioral health issues and alcohol use stem from bigger basic needs in the county. The final goal of the Coconino County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is to increase intervention programs that will improve the social determinants of health—education, employment, housing, transportation, social and community engagement, access to health care—that may lead to decreases in incarceration and ultimately to healthier lifestyles for formerly incarcerated individuals.

“Once someone is incarcerated, a cascade of hurdles awaits them upon release; these make it even more difficult to find work, housing and meet all sorts of basic needs,” Evans said. “The design is such that we are plucking people from society and furthering the chance that they will remain on margins. This is exactly opposite of what we should be working toward.”

Eventually, if the results are conclusive, the final report will support resubmitting two Arizona House Bills for diversion programming, HB 2422 and 2414, which were not funded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is so important because we have a high rate of arrests and incarcerations and such a dearth of resources for people,” Ricky Camplain said. “If these bills are funded and we come up with a good plan, we could potentially have substantial impact.”