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Alternatives to Arrest

A homeless camp

Many people with mental illness or addiction or who are experiencing homelessness don’t belong in jail and should be diverted to treatment.

A significant percentage of people who enter our criminal justice system have mental health or substance use issues, and many don’t have stable housing. The criminal justice system is not equipped to address these deep-rooted and complex issues. The result is that many people cycle through jails and hospital emergency rooms without getting the help they need.

We aim to connect people experiencing mental illness, addiction, or homelessness to preventive treatment to improve their lives and reduce — or eliminate — their contact with the justice system. We do this by working closely with jurisdictions to identify and study alternatives to arrest and then helping those governments leverage data and develop tools to direct vulnerable people to resources outside the criminal justice system.

Image: A police officer and social worker talk with a homeless man camping on private property in Everett, Washington, in November 2017. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

Proportion of U.S. jail inmates who have a mental health problem
Proportion of U.S. jail inmates who have a substance use disorder
Visits to emergency departments involving a diagnosis related to mental illness or substance use disorder in 2007
Amount Miami-Dade County saved per year after police “decriminalized mental illness”

Requests for Proposals


Arnold Ventures funds projects to understand problems and identify policy solutions.

Map of the U.S. made of Arnold Ventures icons