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.
Shining a spotlight on mental health and police shootings
The Boston Globe’s infamous Spotlight team recently published an investigation on yet another way people with mental health disorders are underserved and harmed by the criminal justice system: being shot by police. Spotlight uncovered that in Massachusetts, between 2005 and 2015, more than 40 percent of people killed by police were suicidal or show...
Rethinking mental illness and its path to the criminal justice system
There is growing attention to the intersection of poverty, mental illness, and criminal justice. Just last week, Vox published an article describing how the criminal justice system has become the default mental health system in the United States. And Vera recently released The Human Toll of Jail, featuring a story—later shared on Vice News—about ho...
A more compassionate public response to addiction
In 1995, at the height of the AIDS epidemic in this country, 48,979 people died from HIV-related mortality. In 2014, more than 47,000 Americans died, not from an emerging infectious disease without existing treatment, but from drug overdoses driven in large part by prescription opioids such as fentanyl and oxycodone. This parallel, on which The New...
Creating a Recovery-Informed Framework for Integrated Mental Health and Criminal Justice Responses
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...
Appreciating public health-oriented policing firsthand
Last month, the New York Times reported that more than 130 law enforcement officials have launched an initiative to reduce both crime and incarceration, representing a public shift in philosophy from previously popular tough-on-crime rhetoric. As a police officer in Seattle for 31 years and now with the King County Sheriff’s Office for the last ye...
First Do No Harm
Advancing Public Health in Policing Practices
Series: Gender and Justice in America
Women suffer when drug treatment focuses on men’s needs
In the last 10 years, heroin use among women has doubled, yet few drug treatment programs consider women’s unique needs and current punitive drug policies disproportionately entangle women of color and economically disadvantaged women in cycles of arrest, incarceration, and poverty. Heroin use has increased dramatically in the past decade among al...
Prevention and care can reduce suicides in jail
The numbers released earlier this week by the Bureau of Justice Statistics paint a grim picture. Suicide—as it has been every year since BJS began collecting data in 2001—is the leading single cause of death for people incarcerated in local jails, accounting for a third of all facility deaths in 2013. This is a 9 percent increase from 2012. Local g...
Are drug court participants getting the treatment they need?
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Maia Szalavitz calls for the governors of New York and New Jersey to sign legislation guaranteeing that participants in drug court and other forms of mandated substance use treatment are able to access medication assisted treatment (MAT). An extensive literature supports the effectiveness of drugs like methadone an...
Series: Gender and Justice in America
Reproductive justice should be included in reform efforts
After decades of mass incarceration, policymakers around the country are realizing the unintended consequences of using the criminal justice system to deal with the social and public health problems of homelessness, drug use, mental illness, and poverty. Despite the advances of criminal justice reform, however, there are increasing efforts to crimi...
Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience Program at Rikers Island