Justice behavioral health initiative

Many of the people cycling in and out of jails and correctional institutions suffer from untreated mental illness. The traditional criminal justice system is not sufficiently responsive to clients who have mental and chemical health needs. It too often relies on deep end, one-size-fits-all interventions. The behavioral health system also is not designed to serve people who are also involved in the criminal justice process. As a result, expensive crisis venues have become the default resource for behavioral health care. 

Many people don’t fit neatly into either traditional system. These mismatches end up costing both the health care and criminal justice system too much money for little benefit to the people who need help most. 

In Hennepin County, the Criminal Justice Behavioral Health Initiative is working to break this cycle by bringing about system alignment in hopes of creating better outcomes for some of our most vulnerable residents. County programs are leveraging county resources across systems, to maximize collective experience and implementing innovative solutions that are creative and flexible, to focus more effort where it makes most sense in the criminal justice process.

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Our strategic direction

We envision a future when people in the criminal justice system who have behavioral health needs are quickly identified and are able to easily access appropriate services; where county systems are aligned and coordinated so that resources are maximized; and where services reflect best practice approaches and lead to successful outcomes for Hennepin County residents.

We will work to leverage resources that are already available to meet residents' needs, to produce better outcomes and provide value for taxpayers.

Our path to success

  • Collaborating across criminal justice, health and human service disciplines
  • Training law enforcement and court parties to identify symptoms of mental illness and methods of effective interventions
  • Planning for care after discharge from the county jail and correctional facility
  • Developing local programs for inmates declared incompetent to stand trial
  • Expanding jail diversion and detention alternatives
  • Developing a network of community providers who specialize in working within the criminal justice system

Desired outcomes

  • Increase health care coverage for high-need clients
  • Reduce use of emergency room
  • Increase use of community-based services
  • Early identification of behavioral health needs
  • Decrease recidivism
  • Increase coordination and communication across county systems

Examples of innovation

Integrated access team

A multidisciplinary group of social workers, chemical health counselors, housing specialists and community health workers work with the sheriff’s office staff and medical staff at the Hennepin County jail. The team identifies people who are at high risk to return to jail, and who have significant mental health needs. The team makes contact with them while they are in jail and stays in contact after they are released, to help link them to services in the community. Similarly, for people with significant mental illnesses, a triage process measures public safety risk and clinical need, and matches people with an array of service options.

Crisis intervention training

A major goal of the initiative is to divert people from entering the criminal justice system in the first place. We  are promoting the expansion of crisis intervention training (CIT) for law enforcement, to better respond to calls where mental illness may be a factor. We are pursuing alternative options for law enforcement drop off, so people can immediately access crucial services, such as mental health assessments, medication, detox, chemical health treatment and crisis housing. 

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