Vera’s Substance Use and Mental Health Program launched the Justice and Health Connect (JH Connect) initiative in 2011 with support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. JH Connect aims to increase agencies’ capacities to share data across behavioral health and justice systems in confidential, legal, and ethical ways to better serve people with behavioral health needs who come into contact with justice systems.
As increasing numbers of people with behavioral health problems enter the justice system, health and justice agencies must develop coordinated solutions to the challenges this population faces. Yet these agencies face legal, ethical, and practical barriers to sharing information, which policymakers and agency managers often have neither the time nor resources to confront. While guidelines exist for data sharing within both the health and criminal justice sectors, there is currently no single resource where interested parties can learn about best practices for organizing cross-boundary exchanges between health and justice entities.
Seeking to address this gap, the JH Connect Initiative has launched an online knowledge bank to foster information-sharing between behavioral health and justice systems. The website will include a wide range of materials, including policy briefs, legal memos, templates, and webinars, catering to diverse audiences and jurisdictions including those interested in using health information technology to facilitate and improve justice and health data sharing. These resources will offer guidance on the type of data exchanges that are legally permissible, outline their potential ethical pitfalls, and highlight promising practices that maximize benefits to clients while reducing costs. The knowledge bank will house existing resources as well as guidelines based on case studies of promising initiatives and guidance from experts in the field.
Why is information-sharing important?
The distinct cultures, philosophies, and even vocabulary of behavioral health and justice agencies have produced a yawning communications gap between them, with adverse consequences for people facing substance use and mental health problems who are involved in the criminal justice system. As a result, people with these needs often experience inadequate or inconsistent care as they move in and out of incarceration. As the number of people with mental health and substance use needs in the justice system grows, it is imperative that the relevant agencies create ways to communicate to divert people from incarceration to community treatment alternatives when appropriate and coordinate care for people as they enter and leave correctional settings. In a time when public officials are seeking ways to maximize the use of scarce resources, many jurisdictions recognize the potential for data-sharing to improve services, enhance individual outcomes, and reduce duplication of effort for this vulnerable population.
For additional information, contact SUMH director Chris Weiss.