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. 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.
More Information and Resources
There are many resources available regarding programs and best practices to reduce the number of individuals with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system. Visit:
- Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC)-Jail Diversion Services.
- Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC)-Crisis Services.
- Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC)- First Episode Psychosis.
- Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC)- Home and Community Based Services.
- Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA)- Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)- Sequential Intercept Model.
- Bureau of Justice Assistance- Police-Mental Health Collaboration Toolkit.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)- Divert from Justice Involvement.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)- Jailing of People with Mental Illness.
- The Stepping Up Initiative.
- Annual Report on the Screening of Offenders with Mental Illness.
- Report on State Hospital Bed Day Allocation Methodology and Utilization Review Protocol.
- Mental Health Peer Support Re-entry Program.
- Semi-annual reporting on Waiting Lists for Mental Health 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