Sentenced Individuals with Behavioral Health Disorders and Their Families Research has demonstrated that strategies targeting stronger relationships between corrections-involved individuals and their families correlate with better outcomes.48 Individuals leaving corrections facilities expect that family members, above all others, will provide financial resources, housing, and emotional support on release; and families do, in fact, often provide that tangible and emotional support.49 Likewise, formerly incarcerated individuals who are married are more likely to find employment after release, and those with children to whom they are closely attached enjoy better employment and substance use outcomes.50 When sentenced, some individuals and their families are frustrated by the scarcity of alternatives to incarceration that provide appropriate treatment; by barriers to involvement when family members are incarcerated; and by the absence of continuity of care on release. These issues are particularly pronounced for women,* most of whom are mothers to minor children with whom they will reunify once released from incarceration.51 How to support parental relationships with their children and their caregivers is an important consideration for criminal justice systems.†
Judges and Court Staff Criminal courts process a high volume of individuals with behavioral health disorders. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys find they need access to accurate information on clinical needs and treatment alternatives to efficiently assess a case, determine disposition options, and make informed decisions. With so many defendants exhibiting mental health and substance abuse symptoms, it is often difficult to ascertain the contribution of these disorders to the current charges and their impact on adhering to conditions of supervision and release. This information is critical to decision making. With insufficient community treatment and supervision options, jails and prisons are sometimes seen as more certain placements to ensure public safety. The revolving-door nature of so many individuals with behavioral health disorders cycling through the criminal justice system frustrates judges and their staffs and underscores the need for more effective diversion, supervision, and treatment strategies.52
*For additional information about gender-specific approaches, please visit the National Resource Center for Justice Involved Women at http://cjinvolvedwomen.org/. The center is operated by the Center for Effective Public Policy and funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and National Institute of Corrections. † See discussion in Jessica Nickel, Crystal Garland, and Leah Kane, Children of Incarcerated Parents: An Action Plan for Federal Policymakers, New York, NY: Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2009. Additional resources for working with children of incarcerated parents and families is available through Vera’s Family Justice Program at http://www.vera.org/centers/family-justice-program and the Corporation for National and Community Service Resource Center at http://www.nationalserviceresources.org/mentoring-children-prisoners-initiative. For additional research, see Nancy G. La Vigne, Elizabeth Davies, and Diana Brazzell, Broken Bonds: Understanding and Addressing the Needs of Children with Incarcerated Parents, Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, February 2008.