Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System | MAMH

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People with Behavioral Health Conditions – At Risk for Criminal Involvement

Individuals with mental health conditions who come into contact with the criminal justice system have become a source of growing concern in recent years due to their overrepresentation and the difficulties they encounter with disparate treatment at every stage of the judicial process:

  • In jails, the prevalence of serious mental illness is 14.5% among males and 31% among females compared to 5% and 4% in the non-jailed populations (Steadman et al., 2009).
  • People with mental health and substance use conditions have higher rates of arrest (Steadman et al., 2009).
  • They experience slower and biased booking processes (Finkle et al., 2009) and are more likely to be held on bail and have longer sentences.
  • They have high rates of suicide in jails and prisons, in part due to disproportionate risk of placement in administrative segregation where they are confined to isolation cells for more than 23 hours per day (Hayes, Hunter, Moore, and Thigpen, 1995).
  • They are not likely to get the necessary treatment and services both while they are incarcerated and upon release.
  • They are more likely to have their community term revoked or suspended when they are on parole or probation (Skeem, Nicholson, Kregg, 2008).
  • People with mental illnesses who have been arrested or served time in the past are at much higher risk for recidivism than others in the population who have been arrested or jailed. 


Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) – Tool to Plan Justice Diversion and Reentry Services

There are many points in which an individual can come in contact with the criminal justice system. The Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) outlines six points of interception and conceptualizes solutions to prevent individuals with mental health conditions from penetrating the justice system because of their illness alone (Munetz & Griffin, 2006).

MAMH is focusing its efforts on three SIM intercept points with the goals of diverting people with mental health conditions from the criminal justice system and supporting offenders with re-entry to the community to prevent recidivism. There are innovative and evidence-based programs both here in Massachusetts and across the country that should be brought to scale:

  • Intercept One/Pre-Arrest, to divert people with mental health conditions from the criminal justice system prior to arrest, using the Crisis Intervention Training Program implemented by NAMI to train police officers how to de-escalate situations with individuals who have mental illnesses and get them to treatment rather than jail.
  • Intercept Two/Initial Detention, to divert people with mental health conditions from the criminal justice system prior to booking, using a program like The Living Room at Behavioral Health Network (BHN) in Springfield.
  • Intercept Four/Re-entry, to connect people with mental health conditions with community treatment at the earliest points of intervention to prevent recidivism, using a program like the Worcester Initiative for Supported Re-entry (WISR) at Advocates in Worcester.