In April 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in two SOAR Criminal Justice (CJ) Technical Assistance (TA) Implementation Meetings. These were the first meetings of this type I have been a part of since I started working for Policy Research Associates, Inc. and the SAMHSA SOAR TA Center. Fortunately, I had my two experienced colleagues, Abby Kirkman and Dazara Ware, to “show me the ropes”. Abby and I started this TA trip with a presentation entitled “Successful Reentry! Using SOAR as a Tool to Promote Successful Reentry for People with Serious Mental Illness that are Involved in the Criminal Justice System” at the California Institute for Behavioral Health Solutions’ Evidence-Based Practices Symposium in Burbank, CA. We then met up with Dazara in Riverside, California, where the first implementation meeting was held. The Riverside University Health System’s (a 2019 SOAR CJ TA Awardee) Dr. Brian Betz hosted this implementation meeting. Thirty representatives from federal and local governments and programs, criminal justice service providers, and community providers were present. The group was engaged in a discussion surrounding challenges, opportunities, and measurable action plan steps were created for SOAR implementation in Riverside County.
The next day, Abby, Dazara, and I drove from Riverside to Coalinga, California for the second SOAR CJ TA Implementation Meeting at the Department of State Hospitals–Coalinga. During this 4-hour drive, we stopped at the famous Hollywood Sign and the not so famous James Dean’s Last Stop sign thanks to Abby’s encouragement!
Our meeting with the Department of State Hospital—Coalinga (another 2019 SOAR CJ TA Awardee) was hosted by Deborah Dunham, LCSW. The Department of State Hospitals—Coalinga is part of the California state hospital system and treats forensically committed patients. Ms. Dunham brought together 28 representatives for this meeting that included management, clinical staff, and SOAR-trained case managers from the state hospital, service providers from Fresno and San Diego, California, and representatives from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Disability Determination Services. A productive discussion was held, a collaborative agreement between the state hospital and SSA/DDS was reached, and a firm resolution to equip state hospital patients with SSA disability benefits upon discharge to increase the likelihood of successful re-entry was expressed by all members of the group. We also had the opportunity to meet individually with the SOAR-trained case managers at the state hospital to complete a SOAR Online Course Review Session and address their questions. These two SOAR CJ TA Implementation Meetings were a great learning experience for me and I am grateful to have been a part of them.