Background and Mission

There are about 10 million adults booked into U.S. jails each year, with greater than 1.5 million people already incarcerated. Current estimates suggest that as many as 700,000 of those adults entering the criminal justice system suffer from serious mental illnesses, including a significant percentage with co-occurring addictive disorders. Among the juvenile population, of the more than 2 million youth under age 18 who are arrested each year, studies indicate that 60 to 70 percent of them have mental disorders. The rates of mental illness among both the incarcerated adult and youth offenders in jails and prisons are at least 2-3 times higher than that found in the general population. Furthermore, persons with mental illnesses and/or addictive disorders are arrested at disproportionately higher rates compared to those persons without such disorders.

By all accounts, this population's behavioral health needs are grossly underserved while they are incarcerated and little is known about the treatment received by this population once they leave the prison environment and are on parole. Although screening and diverting detainees with mental or behavioral disorders from the justice system can reduce this burden, effective diversion programs are not available in most communities. Recent surveys also show that improvements in the areas of discharge planning and linkage to community-based services upon release are essential. The absence of discharge planning for individuals released from correctional settings considerably increases the likelihood that such persons will fail to receive the ongoing community mental health and/or substance abuse treatment they need, thereby increasing the probability that they will relapse and return to incarceration.

These phenomena have been well documented by the Open Society Institute's Center on Crime, Communities, & Culture and the National GAINS Center in a manuscript entitled The Courage to Change: A Guide for Communities to Create Integrated Services for People with Co-Occurring Disorders in the Criminal Justice System. It is clear that in order to effectively serve this population, an integrative and assertive approach is needed. Ideally, cross-trained workers from clinical (treatment) and correctional (including community correctional) disciplines would deliver state-of-the-art care to achieve mutually defined outcomes. National demonstration programs have supported this thesis and several innovative efforts are already in progress in Maryland's jurisdictions, under the auspices of the Maryland Community Criminal Justice Treatment Program.

The Center for Behavioral Health, Justice, and Public Policy has as its mission to promote service integration for persons with mental illness and/or addictive disorders in the justice system. The Center's initiatives focus on evidence-based practices that allow the development of evidence-based programs and policies. The Center's objectives are to divert individuals from criminal justice settings, improve their quality of care while under custody, and assure that upon discharge they have access to appropriate treatment and support services to ensure successful re-entry to community settings.

By developing an inter-disciplinary Center, our goal is to improve communication between the correctional and behavioral health service systems resulting in subsequent improvement in services for offenders with behavioral disorders. We intend to bring together academic and private foundation interests and commitments to enhance the impact of the Center's activities at the local, State, and national levels.

Background and Mission


Question of the Month