Drawing on lessons learned from initiatives funded by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), this brief describes four ways that states and localities can improve their services for people with behavioral health needs.
One way to improve local mental health services is to strengthen and formalize cross-system collaboration. This involves communication and cooperation among state and local leaders across multiple systems, including criminal justice, behavioral health/health, housing, and other local services that can address handicaps and needs typically faced by those with mental illness. A second way to improve local mental health services is to improve the state and local capacity to collect and share data required to evaluate the need for and effectiveness of strategies to improve mental health services. A third way to improve services to mentally ill persons is to reduce avoidable contact with the criminal justice system. Strategies for doing this include education and policies for early identification of mental illness and treatment following first police contact; diversion from criminal justice processing for those who do not pose a public safety risk; early diagnosis and services for those in the justice system; and the provision of mental health services that reduce reoffending. A fourth way to improve local mental health services is to assess the current community awareness of and access to mental health services, as well as access to resources to pay for such services. This assessment should be followed by improvement plans. State strategies for assisting localities are also discussed.