Consensus Workgroup Publishes Recommendations to Improve Care in the Justice System

Last week, the Consensus Workgroup on Behavioral Health Issues in the Criminal Justice System, a coalition of twelve national advocacy organizations including the National Council, released federal policy recommendations to the 116th Congress and the Trump Administration. Some recommendations include addressing diversion tactics, effective practices during incarceration, workforce development, federal research and coordination, juvenile justice reform, and more.

Recent data from the Department of Justice show that over half of all people incarcerated in jails and prisons report experience with mental illness, and around half meet criteria for drug dependence. The numbers are even more staggering for youth – around 70% of youth detained in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health condition, 3.5 times the rate of their peers.

Highlights of the federal policy recommendations include:

Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs)

  • Extend the length and expand the scope of the CCBHC Medicaid demonstration.
    • CCBHCs have shown tremendous success in increasing access to care, responding to the opioid crisis, and improving quality, coordinated behavioral health care.
    • In communities with CCBHCs, sheriffs and police officers now have access to on-the-ground support from trained mental health and addiction professionals, alleviating much of the burden on front-line officers and helping people access the appropriate level of treatment.

Behavioral Health Workforce Development

  • Expand the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), which provides loan forgiveness to providers, to include local/county corrections officials.
  • Strengthen funding for programs to expand the behavioral health workforce (such as the 2018 SUPPORT Act).

Juvenile Justice

  • Increase federal funding for research, as well as culturally and developmentally appropriate prevention programs.
  • Emphasize diversion for justice-involved youth with behavioral health needs (i.e. home- and community-based treatment).

Federal Support for State and Local Agencies

  • Allow Medicaid to cover services for individuals who are incarcerated but not convicted of crimes.
  • Support states in suspending, rather than terminating, Medicaid coverage during incarceration.
    • This would allow people to receive Medicaid benefits as soon as they transition out of the criminal justice system, as reinstating benefits can take a significant amount of time.
  • Connect individuals to health coverage and services during the reentry process.
  • Improve telemedicine services to support individuals living in rural communities.
  • Expand trauma-informed systems Trauma-informed, Resilience-oriented Care and care.
  • Help state and local systems universally screen and assess for mental health and substance use disorders at time of arrest, as well as criminogenic risk and need.

The workgroup’s participating organizations include: American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, Campaign for Youth Justice, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Counties, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, National Council for Mental Wellbeing, National Criminal Justice Association, Police Foundation, Treatment Advocacy Center, and the Vera Institute.


The Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act (S. 824/ H.R. 1767) directly supports one of the Workgroup’s recommendations, the extension and expansion of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs). The bill would extend the CCBHC program in the original eight states for two years, while expanding the program to the other 11 that applied but were not originally selected. While the National Council is working with Congressional leaders to find a viable solution, we ask all advocates to reach out and speak up in support of CCBHCs. Taking action is easy – just click here!

Guest Author

Malka Berro
Policy Associate