Featured areas of work includes:

  • Examining the public health implications of mass incarceration The millions of people cycling through our nation’s courts, jails, and prisons every year experience far higher rates of chronic health problems, substance use, and mental illness than the general population. Mass incarceration impacts individual and community level health outcomes and has played a role as a driver of larger scale health inequalities. SUMH programs raise awareness of this link to devise and share solutions that improve health outcomes and increase the use of alternatives to incarceration.
  • Measuring the impact of drug policy States are increasingly reconsidering ways to respond to nonviolent drug offenses, and policymakers have a pressing need for empirical evidence that can help inform their decisions. SUMH conducts research on the impact of drug policy, such as the use of treatment-based alternatives to incarceration in lieu of lengthy prison sentences.
  • Improving services for people with behavioral health needs Many people leaving jail Many people in the criminal justice system face a range of problems, from accessing mental health treatment to securing a place to live. Evidence shows that access to appropriate services can improve individual health outcomes and reduce the likelihood of future arrests. SUMH is working with correctional facilities, public defenders, city government agencies, and innovative public-private partnerships to design more accessible and effective legal representation, health, and reentry services.
  • Using information-sharing between public health and justice systems to improve service provision Many people in contact with the criminal justice system have mental health and substance use problems. Yet health and justice systems rarely share information with each other to improve awareness of clients’ needs or to enhance the services they provide. In order to address these gaps, SUMH hosts an online knowledge bank to foster information sharing between justice and health agencies and conducts projects that integrate data from mental health, substance use, and criminal justice agencies in order to help jurisdictions better identify and serve people with behavioral health problems.
  • Leveraging health care reform to improve outcomes for people in the justice system SUMH is informing agencies and jurisdictions how to utilize Health Information Technology and implementation of the Affordable Care Act as intersectoral solutions. By creating models for increasing Medicaid enrollment for people involved in the justice system, SUMH works with jurisdictions around the country at various stages of ACA adoption to take advantage of potential new opportunities created by national health reform to improve community health.

Why this Work Matters There are three times as many people with serious mental illness in jails and prisons than in hospitals, and about two-thirds of people in prison report regular drug use. However, justice systems around the country are ill equipped to provide behavioral health services, and individuals often fail to get the help they need. This has serious implications for people involved in the justice system, their families, and the communities in which they live. SUMH research helps jurisdictions design policies that increase access to treatment, reduce reliance on the criminal justice system as a response to these problems, and improve public safety.