Lenses

Public Health

The millions of people of color who cycle through the nation’s criminal justice system every year have far higher rates of chronic health problems, substance use, and serious mental illness than the general population. But instead of providing treatment, the country’s overly punitive system often exacerbates these problems.

Top Things to Know

  1. President Trump’s commission recognizes the opioid crisis as a top priority.
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  2. Jails function as de facto mental health facilities, and communities are looking for alternatives.
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  3. State and local governments are starting to limit when youth can be locked up.
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  4. Campaign calls out role of child abuse in future opioid addiction.
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  5. Louisiana adopts sweeping justice reform, and Massachusetts moves closer.
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  1. Oregon relaxes drug laws in effort to curb mass incarceration.
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  2. More states introduce “drug-enhanced homicide” bills.
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  3. Congress is considering expanding the Controlled Substances Act to include synthetic drugs.
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  4. Public outrage over lack of mental health care and suicide prevention efforts spurs change.
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  5. Incarcerated people in federal prison speak out.
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  6. While some lawmakers explore a public health approach to drug use, others continue to pursue “tough on crime” sentencing laws.
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  7. There has been a dramatic increase in fentanyl in the drug supply chain.
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  8. Jurisdictions are expanding access to naloxone, including for people leaving prison.
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  9. Pregnant women with substance use disorders continue to be criminalized and stigmatized.
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  10. Some prosecutors promote diversion programs as an alternative to incarceration.
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Facts and Figures

On Our Radar

  • The use of medication-assisted treatment is expanding in jails and prisons.
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  • There’s a new focus on the health of prison staff.
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  • Buffalo, New York, implements the nation’s first opioid court.
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  • What will the fate of the Affordable Care Act mean for substance use treatment?
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  • Police-led diversion programs to keep people out of the justice system launch in multiple states.
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