An estimated 2 million annual jail admissions involve a person with a serious mental illness and three-quarters of these individuals has a co-occurring substance use disorder. Many counties struggle to provide appropriate treatment and services to some of their most vulnerable residents in the community, sometimes resulting in jails becoming their de facto mental health facilities. This crisis disproportionately affects people of color, who are more likely to be incarcerated and less likely to be diagnosed for mental illness in the criminal justice system compared to their white peers. An analysis done by the Department of Justice showed that 22 percent of black individuals and 23 percent of Hispanic individuals in jail met the threshold for serious psychological distress compared to 31 percent of white individuals. Black and Hispanic individuals are also half as likely to receive mental health treatment referrals compared to white individuals during their stay in jail.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) focuses on the overuse of local jails and has begun to generate alternative strategies that have the potential to remedy the problem. Many counties across the country are addressing the needs of individuals with mental illness through innovative interventions as a part of the SJC. As a Strategic Ally in the SJC, the National Association of Counties (NACo) will support county leaders in a County Justice Peer Learning Network (PLN) focused on reducing the number of individuals with mental illness involved in the justice system with a lens toward also reducing racial and ethnic disparities in arrest and incarceration of these individuals. In line with the SJC’s mission of reducing the overuse of jails, the PLN will provide counties expertise and technical assistance from sites, partners and strategic allies within the SJC network while also integrating resources from NACo’s other justice initiatives such as Stepping Up and Data-Driven Justice.
Opportunities and Objectives
This PLN will support up to 10 counties with an interest in addressing the needs of individuals with mental illness in their criminal justice systems and reducing racial and ethnic disparities for this population. The program will run from January 2020 to June 2021. The PLN will provide opportunities to:
- Learn from county peers, subject matter experts and jurisdictions from the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) network about successful strategies to reduce the number of individuals with mental illnesses in local justice systems.
- Engage county leadership in justice, health and human services to find alternatives to jail use.
- Learn about the intersection of mental health and racial and ethnic disparities for justice-involved individuals and strategies to engage people in appropriate treatment and services rather than jail.
At the end of the PLN, participants will be able to identify gaps in their justice systems for diversion of individuals with mental illness, as well as implement solutions for providing these individuals with a continuum of care. Participants will leave the PLN with an action plan for implementing a policy or program that aims to reduce the number of individuals with mental illness in their jails while addressing racial and ethnic disparities within their criminal justice system. Applications are due COB December 6. If you have any questions regarding the PLN or RFP, contact Vernon Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-661-8809.