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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
After the Crisis: Criminal Justice System Issue Brief
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Individuals with mental health or substance abuse problems and severe trauma histories are as likely to end up in jail or prison as in the mental health system. In fact, rates of prior trauma are as high or higher for individuals in the criminal justice system as for individuals in the mental health system. Some research has shown the rate of serious mental illness is two to four times higher among prisoners than among those in the general population. Prevalence rates of mental illness in jails and prisons range from 8 percent to 16 percent. In addition, co-occurring substance use disorders are common among people with mental illness who are in correctional facilities. Research shows that more than 70 percent of justice-involved individuals with serious mental disorders also have substance abuse problems.
When a disaster strikes, individuals with prior traumatic experiences and mental health concerns and who are involved in the justice system face added stresses, including a lack of information, disconnection, and interrupted or unavailable services. While mental health professionals agree that establishing a sense of normalcy helps traumatized individuals, this is much more difficult to achieve with people in jail and prison. The lack of behavioral health protocols to address the psychological impact of disaster creates a tenuous situation for inmates and staff alike. A number of key areas in emergency preparedness need to be addressed to ensure adequate attention to the stress and trauma experienced by those involved in the justice system.
This resource paper addresses the need for behavioral health programs and services to be included in disaster response plans and protocols, particularly for individuals incarcerated in the criminal justice system. (Authors)
National GAINS Center
Bethesda, MD