Spotlight

Changing Directions

The Intersection of Public Health and Criminal Justice

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 60 percent of people in jail reported having had symptoms of a mental health disorder in the prior twelve months of their study. Further research estimates that approximately 15 percent of men and nearly one-third of women in jail have a serious mental illness and that rates of serious mental illness in state prison populations are at least two to four times higher than in community populations. But despite increasing recognition that the number of people with serious mental illness in the U.S. criminal justice system has reached unprecedented levels, existing interventions have done little to reduce these numbers.

For Mental Health Month, read more about these issues nationwide and the work that’s being done to increase diversion programs, train police officers and corrections officials, and improve interventions for and outcomes of people living with mental health issues.

From The Human Toll of Jail special report, which puts a human face to the uses and abuses of jails in the United States, this story explores how drastic budget cuts left thousands of Chicagoans without access to reliable mental health care, all too many are getting their only real treatment when they land behind bars.
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Millions of medically vulnerable and socially marginalized people cycle through the criminal justice system each year due to serious structural problems entrenched in American society. The absence of a coherent and effective social safety net means that people lack access to physical and mental health care, social services, and housing options in their communities. This report details the cultural divide among system actors that amplify and sustain these problems.
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First-Episode Incarceration

Creating a Recovery-Informed Framework for Integrated Mental Health and Criminal Justice Responses

The number of people diagnosed with serious mental illness in the U.S. criminal justice system has reached unprecedented levels. Increasingly, people recognize that the justice system is no substitute for a well-functioning community mental health system. Although a range of targeted interventions have emerged over the past two decades, existing ap ...

Publication
  • Leah Pope, Kim Hopper, Chelsea Davis, David Cloud
January 29, 2016
Publication
This report, modeled on promising approaches in the mental health field to people experiencing a first episode of psychosis, outlines a new integrated framework that encourages the mental health and criminal justice fields to collaborate on developing programs based on early intervention, an understanding of the social determinants that underlie ill health and criminal justice involvement, and recovery-oriented treatment.
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Mass incarceration is one of the major public health challenges facing the United States, as the millions of people cycling through the courts, jails, and prisons every year experience far higher rates of chronic health problems, substance use, and mental illness than the general population. This publicationfocuses on individual and community-level health impacts of incarceration with a focus on the relationship between mass incarceration and health disparities in communities of color.
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Police are too often called to help people who are at their most vulnerable and don’t think they have anywhere else to turn. For that interaction to end in gunfire or death is deplorable. However, people should not be forced to call police—which can lead to further involvement in the criminal justice system—in order to get care, attention, or support for a sick family member or friend. This blog post explains why.
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Bridging the Justice-Health Divide, an expansion of the DC Forensic Health Project, uses data from several Washington, DC agencies to provide government and community-based organizations with the information they need to gauge rates of mental health problems among the people arrested and improve the effectiveness and reach of mental health services.
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Closing the Gap

Using Criminal Justice and Public Health Data to Improve the Identification of Mental Illness

Researchers from Vera’s Substance Use and Mental Health Program created an unprecedented dataset including records from four Washington, DC criminal justice agencies and the Department of Mental Health to study the mental health needs of people arrested in the District of Columbia in June 2008. The resulting report provides information to improve t ...

Publication
  • Jim Parsons, Talia Sandwick
June 30, 2012
Publication
Researchers from Vera’s Substance Use and Mental Health Program created an unprecedented dataset including records from four Washington, DC criminal justice agencies and the Department of Mental Health to study the mental health needs of people arrested in the District of Columbia in June 2008. The resulting report provides information to improve the identification of mental health needs for this population.
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