Criminal Justice Involvement

Approximately 2 million individuals with serious mental illness are booked into jails across the country each year1.

Individuals with mental health issues are overrepresented in jails and prisons across the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, 37% of state and federal prisoners and 44% of jail inmates reported having a mental health disorder.[1]  Once incarcerated, individuals with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and when released, they are at higher risk of returning to incarceration than those without mental illnesses.

Some of the most common reasons for the high rate of incarceration of individuals with mental illnesses include arrests for behaviors or actions related to untreated mental illness, lack of understanding of mental illness by law enforcement officers and court officials, lack of jail diversion programs, a shortage in safe and affordable housing, and limited availability of outpatient mental health treatment services.  Unfortunately, once individuals who are living with mental illnesses are arrested and incarcerated, they are faced with challenges that are difficult to overcome.

Even brief incarceration may lead to loss of employment and future employment opportunities, poorer physical and behavioral health due to breaks in health care services and treatment, loss of housing and future housing opportunities, and disruptions in family life and social connections. Additionally, the stress of being involved in the criminal justice system is traumatizing and can intensify the symptoms of the mental illnesses that people experience. 

Texas is working to help individuals living with mental illnesses avoid becoming involved in the criminal justice system.  Using the Sequential Intercept Model, state and local agencies are designing programs to support local communities as they expand the availability of outpatient mental health treatment services, jail diversion programs, safe and affordable housing, mental health courts, and outpatient competency restoration services. 


1. The Stepping Up Initiative

2. Bronson, J., & Berzofsky, M. (2017). Indicators of mental health problems reported by prisoners and jail inmates, 2011–12. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1-16

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