The proportion of people with mental illness in the custody of the NYC Department of Corrections has grown steadily over the past five years, even as the overall jail population has decreased. In 2014, 38% of the jail population was diagnosed with a serious mental illness, up from 27% in 2009. An estimated 85% of jail inmates are estimated to have substance abuse disorder and/or mental illness.

Reversing this trend could have widespread benefits—for individuals with a behavioral health problems who need appropriate treatment, for the health and safety of the communities that prisoners return to after release, and for the fiscal health of the City because jailing people is very expensive.

The Institute for State and Local Governance partnered with the NYC Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System, which the mayor established in June 2014, to more quickly identify and divert people with behavioral health problems away from the criminal justice system and into more appropriate and effective treatment and services.

ISLG’s particular role involved helping the task force in two primary areas

  • Identifying gaps and barriers to integrating existing electronic data systems, which currently impedes the provision of appropriate behavioral health services
  • Developing metrics to measure improvements in identifying, diagnosing, and treating individuals with behavioral health problems.

To achieve this first objective, ISLG prepared recommendations on the scope of a cross-agency, real-time, health information system that contains both health and justice data—providing crucial information to decision-makers in the criminal justice system, mental health agencies, and other service organizations. Our recommendations included pragmatic short-term steps as well as suggestions for long-term development and were based in part on a survey of stakeholder agencies about the data they already collect.

To address the second objective, we identified key indicators of improvement in identifying, diagnosing, and treating individuals with behavioral health problems.

The Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System released its Action Plan in December.