New York State Health Foundation

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Criminal Justice Reform and Public Health

Mass incarceration has emerged as a major public health problem in the United States in recent years, particularly in how we deal with criminal justice-involved individuals struggling with mental illness or substance use issues. A study by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found that more than half of all prison and jail inmates (56% of state prisoners, 45% of federal prisoners, and 64% of local jail inmates) reported a mental health problem. As political support and popular sentiment for criminal justice reform grow, so does the need for effective models and sensible solutions that keep people with behavioral health issues out of the prison system and instead put them into treatment. The New York Times editorial board went so far as to call it a modern epidemic, highlighting the rate of mental illness among inmates and emphasizing the important role public health professionals will play in reform efforts.

Learn more about NYSHealth’s work in this area:

Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice
Replicating the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Model in Staten Island

Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services


Drug Policy Alliance
Advancing a Coordinated Municipal-Level Public Health and Safety Approach to Drug Policy

Vera Institute of Justice
Planning Medical Parole to Reduce Health Costs for Aging and Infirm Inmates

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