By CSG Justice Center Staff
The state of Oregon has begun work on a data-driven approach to address challenges in how the state responds to people in the criminal justice system who have mental illnesses and substance addictions.
Oregon’s Behavioral Health Justice Reinvestment Steering Committee met on Oct. 31 to officially launch the state’s participation in the federally funded Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The committee will focus on developing a statewide policy framework to support local governments in improving recidivism and health outcomes for people who repeatedly cycle through both the public safety and health systems.
“We know that when we make meaningful change in behavioral health treatment and addiction recovery, we lift a burden off of our prisons, our hospitals, and our law enforcement,” said Governor Kate Brown, who served as The Council of State Governments’ national president in 2017. “Oregon successfully used Justice Reinvestment to slow prison growth and expand programs that help people succeed outside of prison. By focusing on the intersection of the behavioral health and criminal justice systems in this new model of reinvestment, we can continue to improve both health and public safety.”
During the meeting, CSG Justice Center staff presented analyses highlighting how a small number of people can account for a large percentage of annual jail admissions. For example, Clackamas County has a population of just over 400,000 residents. In 2017, 6 percent of people booked into the county jail accounted for almost 20 percent of all booking events. The analysis showed that this group of 569 people, who cycled in and out of the jail throughout the year as many as four to 15 times, accounted for 2,848 separate 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,” said Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen, who serves as co-chair of the Behavioral Health Justice Reinvestment Steering Committee. “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.”
The criminal justice information presented by CSG Justice Center staff will be matched with Medicaid and Oregon State Hospital data by the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon’s Integrated Client Services. The goal is to quantify the population of people who have frequent contact with Oregon’s criminal justice system and determine this population’s complex health care needs, what types of services they are currently receiving, and the related impacts and costs on the criminal justice and health systems.
“Studies have shown that a small percentage of people make up a disproportionate share of the costs to these systems,” said Senate Republican Leader Jackie Winters (pictured right), who is a member of the Behavioral Health Justice Reinvestment Steering Committee. “By identifying this population of people, we can develop proactive strategies to improve results and their quality of life at a lower cost.”
More than 30 states have successfully used the Justice Reinvestment approach to date, with each state tailoring the process to help address particularly challenging issues within their criminal justice systems. Policy packages that states have passed have often had significant impacts on controlling criminal justice spending, averting growth in prison populations and increasing public safety. While improving access to and the quality of community-based behavioral health treatment are often critical pieces of these Justice Reinvestment approaches, Oregon is the first state to focus its Justice Reinvestment efforts entirely on the intersection of the criminal justice and behavioral health systems.
“Law enforcement officers often face tense interaction with people with behavioral health problems. Too often, these people end up in our jails and emergency rooms,” said Senate President Peter Courtney. “Adjusting how we use our resources can get them the help they need. We can end the cycle and change lives.”
Local perspectives will be critical to properly defining the challenges that Oregon’s project will address. Committee members will work to ensure that the statewide strategies ultimately identified are designed to improve client outcomes and reduce costs at the local level. The CSG Justice Center team has already traveled to 27 counties and three tribal nations to meet directly with local officials, including sheriffs, district attorneys, community corrections officers and behavioral health treatment providers.
“Nearly every day, members of law enforcement come into contact with people who are struggling with mental illnesses or substance addiction,” said Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers, co-chair of the Behavioral Health Justice Reinvestment Steering Committee. “Our officers have received training to help them recognize who needs treatment, but we also need to have appropriate community-based services available to help when someone is in crisis. A statewide behavioral health strategy for people in the criminal justice system will help officers better respond to the needs of their communities and keep Oregon’s citizens safe.”
Conversations about enhanced coordination between Oregon’s behavioral health and criminal justice systems initially began in May, when the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission and Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission hosted a statewide public safety forum facilitated by the CSG Justice Center. Participants discussed how to increase access to and the effectiveness of behavioral health treatment in localities across the state and how to improve information and data sharing across behavioral health and criminal justice agencies.