About the Mental Health Program

Individuals with mental illnesses are significantly overrepresented in corrections settings. Estimates of the prevalence of serious mental illness in jails and prisons are significantly higher than rates found in the general population. One study of over 20,000 adults in U.S. jails found that 17 percent of those entering facilities met the criteria for serious mental illness.[i] Similarly, a U.S. Justice Department study found that approximately 16 percent of adults in state corrections facilities met the criteria for a mental illness.[ii] 

Since the release of the landmark Consensus Project Report in 2002, the Justice Center's Mental Health Program has supported the implementation of practical, flexible criminal justice/mental health strategies through on-site technical assistance; the dissemination of information about programs, research, and policy developments in the field; and the continued development of data-driven policy recommendations. 

In September 2012, the Justice Center published a groundbreaking white paper, “Adults with Behavioral Health Needs Under Correctional Supervision: A Shared Framework for Reducing Recidivism and Promoting Recovery.” The paper was written in recognition of the increasingly urgent need for a strategic approach to addressing the growing number people with mental health and substance use disorders involved with the criminal justice system, as well as the impact their treatment has on public safety and health. Through the integration of the principles of criminogenic risk and behavioral health needs assessments, the framework helps to facilitate agency accountability, promote cross-systems coordination and collaboration, encourage individuals’ recovery, and promote safer communities.


[i] Steadman, Henry J., Fred C. Osher, Pamela Clark Robbins, Brian Case, and Steven Samuels, “Prevalence of Serious Mental Illness Among Jail Inmates,” Psychiatric Services 60, no. 6 (June 2009): 761–765.

[ii] Ditton, Paula, Mental Health and Treatment of Inmates andProbationers (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1999).