Safety and Justice Challenge Expands to Add Behavioral Health-Focused Cohort

By: Ashley Krider

Community Engagement Diversion Reentry July 14, 2021

More than half of our national jail population is living with behavioral health challenges, many of which may have led directly, or indirectly, to their contact with the criminal justice system. This is one of the major reasons Policy Research, Inc. (PRI) provides technical assistance to the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), and why we’re excited to facilitate a behavioral-health focused expansion of the Network: the IMPACT Network.

It is vitally important that people can access the behavioral health treatment and services they need to avoid cycling in and out of the jail system—particularly on non-violent misdemeanor charges.

The SJC supports local leaders who are working collaboratively to rethink local justice systems from the ground up, including its interaction with behavioral health services and systems. Participating cities and counties are using data to identify key drivers of incarceration and racial inequities and working with diverse groups of community members, individuals who work in the justice system, and people with lived experience, to develop impactful reforms.

Since 2016, PRI has witnessed the efforts of local SJC sites to address the diversion, care, and, as required, adjudication of persons more effectively with behavioral health conditions. Locally driven SJC strategies focused on people with behavioral health needs to date extend through various aspects of the criminal justice system and include:

  • implementing pre-arrest and pre-trial diversion in coordination with law enforcement;
  • improving case processing efficiency;
  • enhancing in-jail services and reentry planning; and
  • providing probation alternatives to violation.

The IMPACT Network expansion will engage both current SJC sites and communities not receiving SJC funding to maximize what SJC sites have learned about how to reduce the over-incarceration of persons with behavioral health conditions, as well as to expand the membership of the SJC and spread best and promising practices to other jurisdictions across the U.S.

Some of the specific behavioral health strategies over the course of the SJC have included law enforcement diversion initiatives such as pre-booking Police-Assisted Diversion in Philadelphia (PA), crisis stabilization centers such as the Care Campus in Pennington County (SD), enhanced pretrial supervision with behavioral health screening in Pima County (AZ), and outreach to the familiar face population in Lake County (IL).

Accordingly, the IMPACT Network will be dedicated to accelerating best and promising practices in behavioral health reform and diversion, with an emphasis on local jails, and with a commitment to pursue community-driven race-conscious solutions to reduce harm to populations overrepresented in, or disparately impacted by, the criminal justice system—ؘBlack, Latinx, and Indigenous communities.

The sites will emphasize community interventions that achieve both public health and public safety goals to minimize the involvement of people with behavioral health needs throughout the criminal justice system.

The expansion will integrate six communities/organizations new to the Safety and Justice Challenge: Eau Claire County (WI), West Texas Centers/Howard County (TX), San Juan County (NM), Middlesex County (MA), Orange County (CA), and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The six new sites will join five current SJC communities that have demonstrated progress in reducing the over-incarceration of individuals with behavioral health needs in local criminal justice systems- Allegheny County (PA), East Baton Rouge (LA), Charleston County (SC), Milwaukee County (WI), and Pennington County (SD).

Building and enhancing cross-system collaboration will also be a main focus of the IMPACT Network, including facilitating warm handoffs from law enforcement and first responders to community-based treatment. The network will focus on data collection and evaluation with an eye toward sustainability and helping successful initiatives scale up.

Our team at PRI is excited to work with IMPACT Network sites to continue the SJC’s vital work around community-based responses to the involvement of people with mental and substance use disorders in the criminal justice system.