By Elizabeth Hayes
Oregon on Wednesday launched an effort to address recidivism and other challenges affecting people in the criminal justice system who have mental illness and substance abuse issues.
The Behavioral Health Justice Reinvestment Steering Committee is developing a statewide policy framework to break the cycle of people who repeatedly bounce in and out of jail. The Council of State Governments Justice Center is assisting Oregon, with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice and The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Often, a small number of people account for a large share of annual jail admissions.
“The criminal justice system was designed to prevent, protect against and prosecute criminal offenses. It was not designed to treat mental illness or substance addiction,” OHA Director Patrick Allen, who serves as co-chair of the steering committee, said.
“The best way to support people with behavioral health needs is to connect them to treatment in their local communities. The Justice Reinvestment process will allow us to develop solutions that better promote individual recovery while preserving community safety.”
Nationally, 36 percent of people released from state prisons were locked up for a new crime within three years of release, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Cutting recidivism rates by 10 percent would save states a combined $635 million a year in averted prison construction costs.
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is a data-driven approach to reduce corrections spending and improve public safety by identifying cost drivers and developing state-based solutions. More than 30 states have used the approach since 2010.
Oregon will be the first state to focus its efforts entirely on the intersection of the criminal justice and behavioral health systems, using a data-driven approach.
“Oregon is interested in not building another prison facility and using that cost avoidance to build capacity for addressing people’s needs in the community,” said Steve Allen, senior policy advisor at the Council of State Governments Justice Center.