Behavioral Health Policy Recommendations for America’s Prisons and Jails

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By Mel Wilson, NASW Senior Policy Consultant

Increasingly, U.S. criminal justice systems have become the first responders to individuals living with mental illness and substance use disorders (SUD). More than ever, jails and prisons are expected to provide appropriate services and treatment for the growing populations they serve.

For that reason, the Consensus Workgroup on Behavioral Health Issues in the Criminal Justice System came together to develop policy recommendations to the Trump Administration and the 116th Congress for improving behavioral health policies and procedures.

The Consensus Workgroup on Behavioral Health Issues in the Criminal Justice System includes national organizations representing individuals with behavioral health needs and their families, providers, correctional systems and administrators, criminal justice reformers, state and local governments, state and local program directors and researchers. Participating organizations recognize that the intersection of behavioral health issues and criminal justice necessitates coordinated, collaborative, and sustained efforts, so we formed a workgroup to find consensus.

The workgroup engaged in extensive policy conversations surrounding best practices and implications of certain language and messaging, and reached consensus on the included policy recommendations, reflecting a coming together of law enforcement and mental health organizations. Throughout the process, the report from the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC) was considered in developing the recommendations.

Read the full Policy Recommendations

Together, we call on the Administration and the 116th Congress to comprehensively address issues at the intersection of behavioral health and criminal justice. In our consensus document we acknowledge the progress made in recent years to address the behavioral health needs in the criminal justice system. We also outline recommendations for achieving continued progress on issues such as diversion tactics, effective practices during incarceration, workforce development, federal research and coordination, juvenile justice reform, and much more.

The National Association of Social Workers is fully committed to continuing its collaboration with the Consensus Workgroup on Behavioral Health Issues in the Criminal Justice System on an ongoing basis to highlight current and emerging behavioral health concerns that impact inmates in the nation’s prisons and jails. A list of partners in the Consensus Workgroup on Behavioral Health Issues in the Criminal Justice System is below:

American Psychiatric Association

American Psychological Association

National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors

National Council for Behavioral Health

Campaign for Youth Justice

National Criminal Justice Association

National Alliance on Mental Illness National Association of Counties

National Association of Social Workers

Police Foundation

Treatment Advocacy Center

Vera Institute of Justice

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