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From Correctional Custody to Community: The Massachusetts Forensic Transition Program

NCJ Number
New England Journal of Public Policy Volume: 16 Issue: 2 Dated: Spring/Summer 2001 Pages: 73-81
Stephanie W. Hartwell Ph.D.; Donna Haig Friedman Ph.D.; Karin Orr LICSW
Date Published
9 pages
This article describes the Massachusetts Forensic Transition Program designed to assist in the transition of offenders with mental illnesses from incarceration back to the community.
An estimated 5 to 20 percent of the inmates in Massachusetts county houses of correction and State prisons suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or other major mental illnesses with the expectation to reside in the community after release. However, the adjustment from prison to the open community is overwhelming for those inmates with a major mental illness and criminal history. In an attempt to ease the community reintegration of offenders with mental illness, the Department of Mental Health’s Division of Forensic Services established the Forensic Transition Program in 1998. It is a model of continuing care designed to pay special attention to the unique vulnerabilities of offenders with mental illness. Appropriate inmates are identified to the transition staff when a referral is made to the Department of Mental Health. Transition staff meets with the inmates during incarceration to complete an assessment of the client’s needs on release with the goal of the program that by the time they are released from custody, housing, mental health services, and economic supports are in place. At the end of the first 2 years of data collection, 62 percent or 106 of the 170 transitioned clients were living in the community and engaged in mental health services with the remainder either hospitalized or reincarcerated. To date, the program has seen 32 former clients return to prison. Recommendations are presented for transitioning offenders with mental illness from correctional custody to the community in the areas of program development, client reintegration, and information systems.


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