Strengthening 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

Creating a Culture of Safety

Sentinel Event Reviews for Suicide and Self-Harm in Correctional Facilities

Since 2011, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), through its Sentinel Events Initiative, has been investigating the feasibility of using a sentinel events approach to review and learn from errors in the criminal justice system such as wrongful convictions, eyewitness misidentifications, or incidents of suicide and self-harm in custody. Recogniz...

Publication
  • Leah Pope, Ayesha Delany-Brumsey
December 16, 2016
Publication

Remote Access

Using Video Technology to Treat Substance Users on Probation and Parole in South Dakota

The challenges of accessing services for alcohol and other drug use in South Dakota may have contributed to the state’s high percentage of people convicted of low-level nonviolent offenses, particularly for drug or alcohol related offenses. To minimize these challenges, especially for parolees and probationers residing in the state’s vast rural are...

Publication
  • Alison Shames, Ram Subramanian
October 21, 2016
Publication

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

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...

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

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...

Blog Post
  • Chelsea Davis
    Chelsea Davis
August 19, 2015
Blog Post