Supporting the Nation's Judicial System & the Public it Serves

Behavioral Health Disparities

Research indicates that justice involved persons have significantly greater proportions of mental, substance use, and co-occurring disorders than are found in the public. SJI supports cross-sector collaboration and information sharing that emphasizes policies and practices designed to improve court responses to justice-involved persons with behavioral health and other co-occurring needs.  


National Judicial Task Force to Examine State Courts’ Response to Mental Illness

On March 30, 2020, the Boards of Directors of the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators took action to establish a new Task Force to assist state courts in their efforts to more effectively respond to the needs of court-involved individuals with serious mental illness.  The work of the Task Force will be guided by the following principles.

  • A community by community approach, supported by statewide leadership from all three branches of government, is required to improve the justice system response to those with mental illness and co-occurring disorders.
  • Supporting judicial leadership to implement the Sequential Intercept Model to promote early access to treatment for mental illness and co-occurring disorders and to keep individuals from continuing to penetrate the justice system.
  • Developing best practices, research, and data to improve justice system responses including competency delays, civil commitment, assisted outpatient treatment practices, deflection and diversion, caseflow management practices involving those with mental illness and co-occurring disorders, and other strategies to improve our responses.
  • Promoting education and training for judges and court personnel to improve our capacity to lead change in our states and communities and to understand mental illness and co-occurring disorders and their impact on court proceedings.
  • Carrying forward the important work started by the CCJ-COSCA National Judicial Opioid Task Force (NJOTF).

Additional information about the work of the Task Force, and resources for courts on behavioral health issues can be found at https://www.ncsc.org/mentalhealth.


National Judicial Opioid Task Force

The National Judicial Opioid Task Force (NJOTF) was established by the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), with funding from SJI, in August 2017 to address the issue of opioid-related cases and promote solutions nationwide.  The National Center for State Courts supports the NJOTF Resource Center, a repository for judges and court staff to access opioid-related information and materials.  The resource center offers the nation’s courts a comprehensive collection of best practices, policy recommendations, research, statistics, podcasts, and other information on opioids and the courts.  In addition to creating the resource center, the task force has also worked with federal and state law-enforcement partners to create data sharing, partnerships, and policies; improved access to federal funding for state courts; and presented at numerous national conferences and summits to showcase innovative collaborations that are working across the country.


Opioids and Children in State Courts

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR), the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), and The National Judicial College (NJC) have developed a collaboration to assist state courts in addressing the impact of opioids on children.  The collaboration focuses on both provision of technical assistance as well as education and training. 

The NCSC continues to work on addressing the impact of the opioid epidemic on children and families, particularly the impact on the foster care system.  That work has included working to identify promising and best practices to pilot in state and local courts that will improve outcomes for children impacted by the opioid epidemic, such as:

  • Infusing Family Treatment Court Core Principles to All Dependency Cases.
  • Expanding the Blueprint Framework. 
  • Courts partnering with the medical community to address the needs of pregnant women with opioid use disorder and infants born substance exposed. 

In FY 2019, SJI partnered with The U.S. Department of Justice/Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to provide funding to 8 rural demonstration sites to address the opioid crisis.  SJI funding is encouraging the sites to include the state courts in their work and enable courts to have the resources they need to contribute to the overall objectives of each demonstration site.  IIR is providing the technical assistance for this initiative.

To address the impact of opioids on children in state courts, BJA and IIR are partnering with SJI to support intensive training and technical assistance effort designed to assist local courts and their stakeholders in strongly aligning existing opioid initiatives in their communities, and developing comprehensive and multidisciplinary approaches to more effectively respond to Opioid Use Disorders (OUD) and other emerging drug threats.

BJA and IIR are also partnering with SJI to convene experts and stakeholders from across the United States in the fields of courts, child welfare, schools and law enforcement to discuss the impact of the opioid epidemic on children and families, and to discuss best practices and opportunities for collaboration across disciplines. 

 In FY 2020, the NCJFCJ is hosting two regional summits for interested court jurisdictions who are currently impacted by the opioid epidemic.  During each of the two-day summits, participants will learn from experts, discuss best practices in handling opioid related cases and develop action plans to implement when returning to their local jurisdiction that address the unique needs of children and families impacted by opioid misuse.

NCJFCJ will host two national webinars that will examine “Innovative Practices in Handling Opioid Related Cases” and “Lessons Learned from Regional Opioid Summit Courts.” These interactive virtual learning opportunities will be open to courts across the nation and participants will be given the opportunity to ask questions of expert presenters and learn from other participants. 

The NCJFJC will collaborate on specific deliverables with the NJC: 1) Webinars as a Series on Opioid Use Disorder and the Courts: Protecting Children and Supporting Families; and 2) Four course inserts built into NJC’s General Jurisdiction Course.  NJC will convene a curriculum advisory group to select the topics, faculty and additional resources.


Recovery and Mental Health Oriented System of Care Model

The Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) is engaged with the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) to conduct a system-wide assessment to pave the transition to the Recovery-Oriented System of Care Court Model. The Kentucky Court of Justice (KCOJ) and the AOC are examining this shift from a sanction-based, compliance court model, to a recovery-oriented system of care court model that addresses co-occurring substance use and/or mental health issues.  A recovery-oriented system of care court model will result in formal and informal structures for individuals with substance use and/or mental health disorders to receive appropriate treatment.  The goal of this project will be to inform the KJOC and AOC about the challenges and opportunities to link individuals with treatment services, and how to implement a court model that accomplishes this goal.  The final report will provide information and recommendations on best practices and a framework for implementing the recovery system of care model.    


Minnesota Sixth Judicial District Opioid Response Assessment

Due to the significant number of overdose deaths due to opioids in St. Louis County, Minnesota, the Sixth Judicial District of Minnesota engaged Rulo Strategies to map community capabilities to close the gaps and make connections between arrest, incarceration, and treatment to get people the help they need.  This project complemented other efforts to expand the use of MAT in the justice system, within the jail setting and continuation immediately after discharge.  The final project report includes: 1) documentation of existing services and gaps in the treatment of individuals with opioid use disorders; documentation of stakeholder support and concerns for various service delivery options to better meet the needs of individuals with OUD in the criminal justice system; 2) recommendations for a phased approach to systemic service delivery change; 3) and an implementation plan for funding options and next steps.