Our WorkStrengthening Families and CommunitiesExpanding Access to Health Care

Substance Use and Mental Health

It’s by now a truism that the criminal justice system and jails in particular are a dumping ground for people with substance use and mental health problems. Virtually no corner of the system is untouched, and much of Vera’s work with our government partners around the country addresses the challenges associated with identifying mental health needs and responding appropriately.

That expansive body of work includes a project to address the challenges public defenders face when representing clients with a mental health problem, with the goal of improving representation and case outcomes. Another explores systemic changes, as opposed to reactive measures, that correctional facilities can take to prevent the widespread problem of suicide and other serious self-harming behavior among incarcerated people. And we produced a groundbreaking study of the positive effects of reforming New York's infamous Rockefeller drug laws. We also work with law enforcement to ensure that harm reduction strategies are implemented as a response to substance use, and that best practices that divert people with mental illness from the justice system to the health system are supported. 

Related Work

What Congress lifting the federal ban on needle exchange programming could mean for law enforcement

At the close of 2015, two Republican legislators, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell led the charge to effectively lift the federal ban on providing operational support for syringe exchange programs (SEPs). Because of the increase in potential funding, such harm reduction programs will now further ex...

  • David Cloud
    David Cloud
  • Chelsea Davis
    Chelsea Davis
January 12, 2016
Blog Post