FROM THE DESK OF
Barbara Pierce, Director of Justice Initiatives
Limited access to and lack of collaboration around
behavioral health services continue to pose significant challenges for law enforcement, courts, correctional facilities, and community supervision.
Five percent of U.S. adults have a serious mental illness and the rates are far higher among people in our jails (26%) and prisons (14%). Yet, our criminal justice system has not traditionally been equipped to address the issue.
We see even more pronounced disparities with drug dependence and abuse between incarcerated and non-incarcerated populations.
Some jurisdictions have secured resources and developed collaborations with behavioral health providers to address crisis situations and prevent repeated involvement with the criminal justice system. Still, a majority of counties and municipalities are without these resources and collaborations. Law enforcement personnel called to crises, for example, can be left to make difficult, sometimes life and death, decisions about people’s health and safety. These health and public safety challenges are even more pronounced in rural areas. Crisis training is often lacking and the transportation of a person for an involuntary hold can mean driving that individual in crisis hundreds of miles handcuffed in the back of a car. For small departments, these situations can also leave the jurisdiction with little public safety coverage for hours at a time.
Law enforcement and criminal justice officials are implementing policies and practices to more effectively manage these populations using data and research. CJI is privileged to work with law enforcement and corrections agencies across the country to divert people with mental illness and substance use disorders into treatment, when appropriate, rather than into the criminal justice system. For those who do enter the system, these leaders and those with whom they collaborate provide services designed to stabilize and improve their conditions. The goal is for an individual’s transition to the community to be as stable and sustainable as possible.
In 2019, CJI worked with the
South Dakota Sheriff’s Association to kick off a telehealth pilot program that supports law enforcement responding to crises in rural areas of the state. We’re also assessing and implementing pretrial practices in
five counties in Tennessee
to reduce the use of unnecessary incarceration,
looking for ways to keep people in the community and connect them to behavioral health and other resources.
We continue to work in
as the state implements its Justice Reinvestment legislation.
Many of the new policies
set to go into effect in July will improve access to treatment across the state and provide more tools for law enforcement and judges to address mental illness and substance use disorders. CJI has also partnered with
to improve the experiences and outcomes, including behavioral health outcomes, for women in the state’s correctional facilities. We’ll continue to work with the state to implement many of those recommendations in the coming year.
Read more about CJI’s work in Nevada and Louisiana below.