The Legislative Primer Series on Front-End Justice: Mental Health


Cover of Mental Health ReportFor people in the midst of a mental health crisis, the criminal justice system and jail are all 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 encounter 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 offenders accountable while also connecting them to treatment and services designed to reduce recidivism.

This report connects legislators to the tools they need to consider cost effective policies that respond to mental health issues and enhance public safety.

This report was prepared with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, which seeks to reduce overincarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.

Read the Report in PDF format

Additional Resources