Identifying New Opportunities for Information Exchange
State Behavioral Health Agency administrators have increasingly been called to action to address the over-representation of persons with a mental illness involved in the criminal justice system. While the ability to address the issue within the confines of the public mental health system has improved through clinical expertise coupled with better data systems and active collaboration for alternatives to incarceration, the identification of persons needing mental health care and provision of appropriate services within the criminal justice system continues to lag behind. State Behavioral Health Agency administrators have a unique opportunity and responsibility for defining the minimum standards for mental health data, services, and networks for persons with mental illness, regardless of the venue of service.
This report serves to provide State Behavioral Health Agency administrators with a knowledge base on the multiple and various sources of data used by agencies that are engaged with justice-involved persons who have a mental illness. The identification of key attributes of these data sources and potential mechanisms for strengthening these data are provided to illuminate the culture, language, and definitions of success for the criminal justice systems. Throughout the report, parallel developments in mental health data and services are used to highlight progress made by the mental health agency; these advancements could serve as a basis for collaborative dialogue with the criminal justice system.
The highlighted data are placed within the context of a continuum of care, whether for safety or treatment, for persons with mental illness involved in the criminal justice system. While the discussion is centered on the jail system, the principles have wider application. Developing a common language will ultimately enable addressing the continuum of the issue from prevalence of mental health illness in jail detainees to effective diversion programs and effective treatment while maintaining safety. Valid and well-defined data and information acceptable to both the mental health and criminal justice systems provide a powerful foundation to meet the complex needs of persons with mental illness involved in the criminal justice system.