Looking Back at Five Years of a Federal Program Supporting County Justice Systems

May 5, 2023

The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP) supports communities across the country in their work to address overrepresentation of people with behavioral health needs in the criminal justice system. For five years, between 2015 and 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance funded a JMHCP grant specifically geared toward supporting county justice systems in responding to people with serious mental illnesses (SMI) and co-occurring substance use disorders.  

JMHCP Category 1: Collaborative County Approaches to Reducing the Prevalence of Individuals with Serious Mental Illnesses in Jails assisted grantees in developing systemwide, coordinated approaches to safely reduce this subset of the jail population. For many grantees, this funding helped them start or advance their efforts under Stepping Up, a national initiative addressing overincarceration of people with SMI in jails.  

As grantees progressed through their Stepping Up efforts, many of them developed the capacity to collect accurate, accessible data on SMI in their jails. The Stepping Up initiative designates counties that can demonstrate this capability as “Innovators.” The initiative also encourages counties that have this data to participate in the Set, Measure, Achieve call to action, which challenges counties to set targets on one or more key measures of SMI prevalence in jails and track their progress over time.  

JMHCP Category 1 by the Numbers   

  • 39 grants were awarded, amounting to a total of over $10 million  
  • 12 of the grantees went on to become Stepping Up Innovators 
  • 4 have signed on to Set, Measure Achieve 
  • 32 are featured in the Stepping Up Strategy Lab for innovative programs and practices 

Takeaways for the Field 

  • Many of the most active and successful JMHCP Category 1 grantees leveraged grant funds to support a dedicated Stepping Up project coordinator, a position recommended by Stepping Up that works across system agencies to manage the planning process. The project coordinator facilitates meetings, assists with research and data analysis, and is in regular communication with planning team members.  
  • Sites that situated their Stepping Up planning committees within an existing coordinating body, such as a criminal justice coordinating council, were well-positioned to advance progress, given that the high-level decision-makers were already included in the committee. 
  • Buy-in from jail commanders or county sheriffs who operate jails was critical for implementing validated screening tools for SMI and co-occurring substance use disorders at the jail and tracking data. 
  • As sites honed their capacity to track and analyze data, they used data to inform their planning and decision-making and improve the response to people with SMI and co-occurring substance use disorders.  

County Highlights 

  • Marion County/Indianapolis, Indiana, piloted a brief mental health screening for law enforcement officers to use in their encounters with community members and opened a drop-off center for people in crisis. 
  • Mental Health and Recovery Board of Union County, Ohio, embedded a mental health clinician at the county jail to provide services and connect people with SMI to treatment after release. 
  • Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County, Ohio, leveraged grant funds to open a crisis drop-off center where law enforcement could take people experiencing a behavioral health crisis or community members could refer themselves. 
  • Pitt County, North Carolina, employed a jail navigator to serve people with SMI and ensure treatment connections upon release from jail.  
  • Region 1 Behavioral Health Authority in Nebraska conducted a Sequential Intercept Model mapping workshop and provided specialized training for law enforcement on working with people with SMI. 
  • San Luis Obispo County, California, implemented a validated screening tool for SMI at the jail and developed a strategic plan for its Set, Measure, Achieve efforts, setting targets across all four Stepping Up key measures.  
  • Screven County, Georgia, implemented a validated screening tool for SMI at the jail; employed a jail navigator; and leveraged telehealth services to connect people to treatment before and after release. 
  • Waukesha County, Wisconsin, launched a community-based crisis stabilization program for people leaving jail and returning to the community.  

Learn more about JMHCP.  

Photo by Chris F via Pexels. 

About the author

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Deputy Program Director, Behavioral Health
Mark oversees the delivery of broad-based technical assistance products and tools to assist counties in their Stepping Up efforts. Mark has also provided technical assistance to Second Chance Act and Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program grantees that serve people
with co-occurring substance use disorders and mental illness, and he has coordinated additional projects designed to advance practices at the intersection of the criminal justice and behavioral health. Before joining the CSG Justice Center, Mark worked for the Partnership to End Addiction in New York City where he developed educational tools for state decisionmakers on improving addiction prevention and treatment through health policy. He also worked for Families USA in Washington, DC and for Hunger Free Vermont as part of the Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellowship. Mark earned his BA in political science and sociology from Ohio University and his MPA at Baruch College.
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