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 2009/03/03 - Mayor A C Wharton Launches the Jericho Initiative


160 North Main Street, Memphis, Tennessee 38103

For Immediate Release:
March 3, 2009

  Mayor A C Wharton Launches the Jericho Initiative

A new behavioral health strategy coordinated to transform systems of
care for persons with serious mental illness in contact with the criminal justice system

MEMPHIS, TN - Jail is often the last stop when safety nets fail for persons with serious mental illness. Criminalization of mental illness is a complex and growing local, regional and national problem. On Thursday, March 5, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton will launch a new strategic effort to promote public health and safety, decriminalize mental illness and support effective jail population management.  Mayor Wharton will unveil the Jericho Initiative during a community forum event at the FedEX Institute of Technology from 9 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.  The event will feature Kathryn Power, Director of the Center for Mental Health Services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as well as other behavioral healthcare professionals.

Jails and prisons have become the largest mental health care providers in the United States - with 800,000 persons indentified as having a serious mental illness booked into them each year.  The incidence of mental illness in state prisons and local jails is from 3 to 8 times that in the general population, and there are presently 280,000 persons with mental illness in the corrections systems, more than five times the number in psychiatric hospitals. The Jericho Initiative construct - overcoming recovery barriers at key intercept points to provide persons direct and immediate access to treatment preventing deeper penetration into the criminal justice system - places Shelby County as a national leader in the decriminalization of mental illness. 

"The Jericho Initiative provides a conceptual framework for systemic improvements in the interface between justice and behavioral health systems," said Mayor Wharton. "This is a bold and provocative approach to combat prevailing issues related to recidivism."

The Jericho Initiative rises from Mayor Wharton's nationally-recognized, post-booking jail diversion program - the Jericho Project.  Now in its 10th year, the Jericho Project pioneered a non-specialty court model designed to target individuals with serious mental illness and co-occurring substance use whose level of criminal justice involvement makes them ineligible for diversion through other programs. The Jericho Project offers courts quality alternatives to pretrial detention utilizing an array of supervised, conditional release strategies.

As director of the Center for Mental Health Services, Kathryn Power - along with her 126 member staff - is charged with providing national leadership in improving mental health services for all Americans. Power will speak on the benefits of the Jericho Initiative in decriminalizing mental illness through evidence-based treatment and services.

The Jericho Initiative community launch event is free and open to the public. Individuals interested in attending should RVSP by email to

For more information, contact:

Robert White, 901-544-4588

Rhonda Turner, 901-545-4588