A Case Study on the HealthLink Diversion Tool


The Center for Effective Public Policy (CEPP) convened a small group of criminal justice leaders to examine strategies for adopting evidence-based tools to promote diversion, deflection, and other nonincarceratory alternatives among police. The aim was to examine challenges in implementation and develop strategies to address them in ways that could help build and strengthen innovative practices in police departments across the country.

Our Approach

Each year, millions of people across the country come into contact with the criminal justice system because they struggle with mental illness and substance use disorders. Many of these people repeatedly cycle through our jails in large part because they are never provided with services that address their underlying challenges.

Safely diverting people away from the criminal justice system and into behavioral health treatment is a goal that law enforcement and other stakeholders share. The Criminal Justice Lab (CJL) at New York University School of Law designed and then piloted an evidence-based screening tool (dubbed HealthLink) that law enforcement could use in the field to identify people appropriate for treatment instead of arrest. But even with strong political and police leadership support and robust community resources, in the pilot jurisdiction, the tool was not widely adopted in the field and therefore did not benefit the number of people originally anticipated.

CEPP brought together a wide group of forward-thinking criminal justice leaders—including law enforcement, public health professionals, researchers, and elected officials—from across the country for a one-day convening at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on April 17, 2023. The discussion, which focused on strategies for ensuring effective adoption of evidence-based police diversion tools, resulted in five important themes attendees emphasized as critical components of successful adoption of a tool:

  1. Culture change
  2. Incentives for tool use
  3. Clear communications
  4. Clear directives and accountability measures
  5. Cooperation and coordination with other agencies

Tools such as HealthLink can be critical elements in making advancements in policy and practice, but, by themselves, they rarely bring about broader cultural change. As one attendee noted, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

The Impact

After the convening, CEPP and CJL created a case study on the HealthLink Diversion Tool with a list of recommendations for police departments and other government agencies to consider when adopting an evidence-based diversion tool or engaging in other diversion efforts.

We hope this case study will be the first of many more steps taken to bolster law enforcement leaders so they may continue to innovate and adopt new practices in ways that will meaningfully improve American policing.

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