Substance Abuse and Mental Health

Pills and SyringeThroughout its history, JMI has taken a strong role in helping justice system stakeholders with their growing need to provide assistance and services to those involved in the justice system who suffer from substance use disorders and/or mental illness. JMI has been involved since the earliest days in the development of problem solving courts, assisting jurisdictions and studying their design and impact.

With estimates as high as 60 percent of arrestees, who have positive drug tests, in jail and fragmented service networks in the highest need communities, the responsibility to treat and rehabilitate drug-involved defendants and offenders has fallen squarely on criminal justice systems. Although some systems have had notable successes in meeting these challenges, others continue to struggle.

Emerging Topics and Trends

The first drug court was created in 1989. Since that time, many other problem solving courts have been developed to help address the myriad of psychological, medical, and social problems that underline the criminal behavior of many defendants who enter our nation’s courts. Today, as a result of years of research, we know much more about how to integrate different systems in order to effectively deal with these populations, increase public safety and reduce recidivism:

  • Applying a system approach to dealing with individuals with substance abuse disorders and mental illness;
  • Exploring methods to provide relevant services to each person who enters the justice system based on validated screening and assessment tools rather than only having a special court or docket; and
  • Coordinating services and sharing information among the different agencies both within and outside the justice system who work with the same populations.
Principles of an Effective Criminal Justice Response to the Challenges and Needs of Drug-Involved Individuals

Through funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and in partnership with The National Judicial College (NJC), the Pretrial Justice Institute, and the American Probation and Parole Association, the project team created the Principles as a conceptual framework for criminal justice systems grappling with growing and high-need populations of addicted and substance using individuals. The framework emerged from the feedback, review, and knowledge of a cross-disciplinary panel of criminal justice experts and leaders to define a systemic approach for criminal justice practitioners to do the right thing . . . for the right people . . . using the right interventions . . . at the right time. The Principles report outlines ten operating guidelines that define highly-successful system-level responses to address the needs of drug involved individuals. Principles provides a roadmap for leaders and practitioners with guidance to identify how severe the substance use is among defendants and offenders, address the diagnosed drivers contributing to the substance abusing behavior, and determine the level of intervention based on severity of substance use and on risk to reoffend. Read more . . .

Applying the Principles

After the publication of the Principles, JMI and NJC is working collaboratively with three accountability courts in three diverse judicial circuits in Georgia. The project team has been providing technical assistance to help each of the courts better respond to defendants who are enrolled in their drug court and mental health court programs. The work for these judicial circuits will conclude in the fall of 2014 with a report about the work that has been done.

Outcome Evaluation of the Seattle Municipal Court 

JMI has conducted both an implementation and outcome evaluation of the Seattle Municipal Community Court, which was intended to reduce the frequency of offending among low-level offenders for whom mental health, substance abuse, and chronic homelessness were often drivers of the criminal behavior. Our work focused on the strengths and weaknesses of the community court during the implementation phase and offered recommendations for future improvement. Subsequently, JMI conducted an outcome evaluation to assess the extent to which the community court was effective in reducing the recidivism rate. Read more . . .

Additional Resources

National Institute on Drug Abuse

National Drug Court Resource Center


Franklin CruzSubstance Abuse and Mental Health