The Legislative Primer Series on Front End Justice: Mental Health

Report coverFor people in the midst of a mental health crisis, the criminal justice system is too often the first or only available response—but not necessarily the best.

Today, a person who is experiencing a mental health crisis is more likely to encounter law enforcement than they are to receive medical assistance. Local jail populations reflect this reality: Rates of serious mental illness in jails are four to six times higher than in the general population.

Statewide support for system-level changes can alter how we respond to mental illness in our communities, reduce the number of people who come into contact with the criminal justice system, and maintain public safety. This report examines ways in which states can support diverting appropriate individuals with mental illness away from the criminal justice system entirely and looks at correctional interventions that can hold people accountable for crimes while also connecting them to treatment and services designed to reduce recidivism.

This report from the National Conference of State Legislatures connects legislators to the tools they need to consider cost effective policies that both respond to mental health issues and enhance public safety.