Conference Promotes Improved Responses to People with Mental Illnesses in the Criminal Justice System

NEW YORK—Criminal justice and mental health experts gather today to share strategies that improve outcomes for justice-involved people with mental illnesses. The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, with the support of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, has convened more than 400 practitioners, researchers, and public officials this week to address the overrepresentation of people with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system.

According to a recent study, 16.9 percent of people admitted to jail have serious mental illnesses&#—rates three times higher for men and six times higher for women than those found in the general population. Many have become familiar faces in local law enforcement incidents, courtrooms, and correctional facilities.

The conference connects front-line professionals with experts, peers, and mental health consumers who can provide guidance on maximizing available grant opportunities and ensuring programs have the greatest impact, including improving law enforcement encounters with people with mental illnesses; diverting individuals to treatment and services when appropriate; and providing assessments, programming, and services that can reduce reoffending and improve health outcomes.

“Recent tragic events have highlighted the critical need for justice and mental health communities to work together and share information to prevent and respond to crime,” said BJA Acting Director James H. Burch, II. “At the same time, our justice systems lack the budgetary strength and often the expertise to respond to the mental illnesses that link people to the justice system, creating a mandate for the two systems to work together to serve communities effectively.”

This conference is made possible through the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP), which is administered by BJA. In 2004, Congress authorized the JMHCP through the landmark Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act in recognition that the justice system is filled with people with serious mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders. The federal funding program authorizes funds for states, units of local government, Indian tribes, and tribal organizations to more effectively use justice system resources to improve public safety and linkages to treatment. Through its technical assistance provider, the CSG Justice Center, BJA has offered training and guidance to grantees from more than 40 states.

“Lawmakers are facing great challenges in balancing their state’s budgets,” said CSG Justice Center Board of Directors Vice-Chair and Kansas State Representative Pat Colloton. “By highlighting what works in reducing the number of people with mental illnesses who cycle in and out of the criminal justice system, BJA is helping state lawmakers reduce spending and focus investments on strategies that will improve the lives of these individuals and increase public health and safety.”

To view detailed information about the conference, access other criminal justice-mental health resources, and subscribe to the Consensus Project newsletter, visit

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. The Justice Center provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus-driven strategies, informed by available evidence, to increase public safety and strengthen communities. For more information, see