Jesse Benet, MA, LMHC, is currently the Deputy Director for the Public Defender Association in Seattle, Washington. Jesse has worked at the intersection of human services and the criminal legal system for over 20 years, largely focused on adult populations since 2002. As a white, queer and trans person, Jesse is committed to systemically addressing racial disparities and other forms of oppression across criminal legal and social/health services in King County. He completed an M.A. degree in Psychology in 2002 at Humboldt State University and is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) Washington state.
Most recently (prior to joining PDA in early 2020) Jesse served in a leadership role as the Diversion and Reentry Services (DRS) section manager in the King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division which sits in the King County Department of Community and Human Services in Seattle. During his 12-year tenure working for King County, he administered behavioral health and housing diversion and reentry programs (including F/ACT, intensive case management, housing first, harm reduction and other best practices) and played a central role in getting the King County Department of Community and Human Services tightly aligned with the mission of criminal legal system reform. Prior to that he worked at a local behavioral health agency to provide and oversee direct release planning services to individuals with behavioral health conditions in the King County Jail in downtown Seattle.
One of Jesse's signature accomplishments while at King County was driving the King County Familiar Faces systems transformation initiative (2012-2016), which has garnered significant attention nationally and cemented King County's commitment to shift from a paradigm of stigma and coercion to one of health- and recovery-based initiatives to address problematic behavior and law violations caused by behavioral health conditions. Familiar Faces is a cross-sector data driven analytical process using unprecedented data matching (from jails, courts, housing, and multiple health care providers) to better understand the experience and needs of individuals cycling repeatedly through the jail, almost all of whom were found to have mental health and/or substance use conditions. The use of LEAN process mapping tools made illogical and counterproductive system responses visible, and illuminated a different path forward that centered on making much greater use of diversion into sustained high-quality community-based care, which Jesse has been a strong supporter and systems advocate for.
Jesse is driven and passionate about centering and serving individuals who have come into contact with the criminal legal system, often because of social justice issues (mental health disability, substance use, living in extreme poverty, systemic racism, homelessness and a lack of access to resources). Jesse has a long history (and critique) of working extensively with a variety of adult problem-solving courts (most specifically mental health courts) and jail reentry best practices. However, he is most passionate about jail diversion grounded in harm reduction human services response, supported by important and integrated collaborations with law enforcement and prosecutors (e.g. LEAD). Most recently, Jesse has served as a local expert on promoting a health and human services response to the competency population (aka in WA State as the Trueblood class), who often languish in local jails and cycle though criminal courts, a harmful and inappropriate response.