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

updated behavioral health banners

Task Force Activities

As we all transition to a new year, the National Judicial Task Force to Examine State Courts’ Response to Mental Illness is moving from organization and planning activities to  solution and implementation work. Each of the three workgroups – Criminal Justice, Civil, Probate and Family Justice, and Education and Partnerships – have organized subcommittees to work on specific topics, and have prioritized the most impactful and urgent issues for immediate attention. The first round of work products are scheduled for completion this May. More information about the work of the Task Force and related resources can be found on this NCSC webpage.

Research and Resources

South Dakota Virtual Crisis Care The Virtual Crisis Care pilot program provides law enforcement with 24/7 access to behavioral health professionals who can assist in responding to people experiencing a mental health crisis. It advances Chief Justice David Gilbertson’s vision to ensure that those working in the criminal justice system have access to the resources they need to help people with mental illness, regardless of where they live.

North Carolina Didn’t Track the Data on Mental Health Commitments, so Some Advocates Did it Instead Ward partnered with Promise Resource Network, a mental health services agency in Charlotte run entirely by people who’ve had their own encounters with the mental health treatment system. Together they painstakingly tracked down North Carolina’s IVC data. They discovered that forced psychiatric treatment under involuntary commitment increased by 91 percent over a decade, far outpacing the state’s population growth.

Reconnect: Our Remote Best Practices, Updated This version of Reconnect's Remote Best Practices whitepaper includes updated pieces that examine the ways in which community supervision agencies have adapted and responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reports from community supervision practitioners around the country—what they’ve changed, what’s worked, and what’s next.

SAMHSA Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) Grant Program Results Show Significant Benefits to Participants and Savings to Communities According to the evaluation, the AOT programs resulted in cost savings to communities and significant benefits to program participants, due to the reductions in hospitalizations, emergency department use and incarceration.

SAMHSA Releases Preliminary Report on the Drug Abuse Warning Network DAWN is a nationwide public health surveillance system to monitor emergency department (ED) visits associated with recent substance use, including those related to opioids. By using data abstracted directly from ED records, DAWN captures detailed information about the substances involved in ED visits and will serve as an early warning system for the emergence of new and novel psychoactive substances.

The Complicated and Messy Interface of the Law and Medicine in Matters Involving Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Attempting to make sense of, much less developing a consistent approach to, dealing with mentally ill persons caught up in the criminal justice apparatus at times can amount to the functional equivalent of trying to catch smoke in a butterfly net. The best efforts of highly capable and competent medical and legal professionals, jurists and legislators have perhaps produced some optimism. Often, though, they can generate considerable confusion. (Maryland Bar Journal)

Aid & Assist - How Best to Balance Mental Health Needs and Public Safety? The knotty challenge of protecting both mentally ill defendants' rights and public safety has come to a head in Oregon over the past couple of years. Judge Nan Waller calls it “an Aid and Assist crisis. The reality is, we don't have enough mental health services for people in this country,” she says. “Unfortunately, our jails have become a big place for provision of mental health services. They don't want to be that.” (Oregon State Bar Bulletin, Westlaw link)

Current BJA Funding Opportunities This list of funding opportunities includes information about Second Chance Act, RSAT, and Veterans Court funding and the application process.

JustNews - The Justice Management Institute Features a free implicit bias training opportunity. In 2017, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina’s Department of Criminal Justice Services and Criminal Justice Advisory Group (CJAG) began working with the National Development & Research Institute and New York State Psychiatric Institute to create a comprehensive implicit bias training program for criminal justice professionals. This training examines how unconscious or implicit biases can affect an individual’s thought processes and decision making in both subtle and overt ways.

Executive Order: Saving Lives Through Increased Support for Mental and Behavioral Health Needs - Report The EO orders the creation of a Coronavirus Mental Health Working Group (Working Group) to examine existing protocols and programs, and outline a plan for improving mental health functioning by assisting public and private stakeholders and agencies to maximize therapeutic support, including face-to- face in-person services, to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19. This Report sets forth actions to date, as well as recommendations for future activity to address these critical issues.

Catching Up With COSSAP Newsletter This issue of “Catching Up With COSSAP” offers a tree full of innovations, starting with the inaugural COSSAP virtual site visit posting—a powerful testament to peer recovery work that is helping to turn around Pennsylvania communities affected by substance use. Other articles catalog apps developed during the pandemic to ensure continuity of service for individuals in recovery; steps recommended for selecting telehealth services for medication-assisted treatment; and a new online feature that tracks all Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP)-related bills and regulations introduced at the state and federal levels.

New Training Opportunity Aims to Improve Local Mental Health Responses This winter, The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center is offering free virtual, intensive training to three jurisdictions at the municipal and county level to help reduce the number of people with mental illnesses who are arrested and booked into jail. Selected jurisdictions will leave this training with concrete steps for future action. This opportunity is offered with support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Apply by Friday, January 15, 2021.

Police, Treatment and Community Collaborative (PTACC) Ticker Features assessment tool resources, links to recent publications, and a calendar of upcoming and funding events.

National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Weekly Update A compendium of links to dozens of mental health related resources.

TAC Research Weekly: 2020 Top 10 List of Severe Mental Illness Research Reflecting on 2020, the Office of Research and Public Affairs (ORPA) put together a list of top 10 research published this year about severe mental illness.

In the News

A Unified Vision for Transforming Mental Health and Substance Use Care In early 2020, as COVID began to spread across the United States, the leaders of the nation’s 14 leading mental health, addiction and well-being advocacy groups and professional organizations began meeting weekly to generate proposals for how to powerfully address the new wave of need. With our combined expertise working on the fault lines of substance abuse, suicide and severe mental illness towards well-being and resilience, we created a Unified Vision for Transforming Mental Health and Substance Abuse Care, that offers actionable pathways for success. And, for the first time, there is strong agreement among stakeholders about what must be done.

A road map from our nation’s experts to transform the mental health system | Opinion Suddenly, mental health has become everyone’s problem, requiring not simply an emergency infusion of federal resources, but a commitment to resolve the crisis. The good news is that there is a plan – a roadmap for the new administration, Congress and state governments to reinvent our broken mental health care infrastructure. The leaders of the nation’s 14 leading advocacy groups and professional organizations began meeting early in 2020 in emergency session to generate proposals to address the new wave of need.

MOT (AOT) System in Virginia Needs Oversight, Report Says The work group’s main goal was to standardize the criteria for MOT eligibility. When looking at a person’s mental-health history, the group recommended that the 36-month “look back” period should be kept, but that incarceration and institutionalization history be removed.

Help on hold: Southwest Virginia mental health patients, law enforcement see marathon wait times on detention orders Chief Clair believes the bulk of the problem, at least locally, stems from Executive Order 70, which Gov. Ralph Northam issued in mid-August. Typically, under the Virginia Code, state-run psychiatric facilities are required to temporarily admit patients with TDOs if a bed in another in-patient facility can't be located. In an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus in state hospitals, Executive Order 70 suspends those admissions if the facility is at 100% capacity, which increases hold times significantly.

Oregon State Hospital violated court order, appeals court rules The Oregon Court of Appeals has affirmed that Oregon State Hospital leaders “willfully” violated court orders when they did not promptly admit a Washington County criminal defendant with severe mental illness for treatment so he could help in his legal defense.

Mental health milestones of 2020 It has been a challenging year to say the least. But there have been several significant advances in mental health equity that deserve special recognition. This Kennedy Forum article reviews five critical milestones.

NCBH Capitol Connector News about passage of the Crisis Stabilization and Community Reentry Act, new guidelines on screening for suicide screening during telehealth, and more.

The Rundown 10 Stats That Shaped 2020 The PEW Charitable Trusts looks at 10 statistics that provided context, inspired action, and helped us move forward this year. #4 relates to the incarceration of people with mental illness, and profiles promising state responses.

An Action Plan for Strengthening Mental Health and the Prevention of Suicide in the Aftermath of COVID-19 The six priority areas and related actions are directed toward those who have the opportunity to create change and implement lasting solutions, including federal and state policymakers, government agencies and non-profit organizations, health care accreditation organizations, professional associations, health care providers, and public and private payers. One of the calls to action includes: “We call on federal, state, and local policymakers to continue to expand efforts to divert people with mental health and substance use disorders away from the criminal justice system and to appropriate substance use and mental health services.”

Group Urges Biden Administration to Install Peers In Top Positions, Reverse Dr. McCance-Katz’s Policies The group proposes creating a new peer position for Behavioral Health inside the White House and elevating “the voice of persons with lived experience and their families (in) all federal agencies.” It also wants to strengthen the IMD Exclusion, increase funding for Protection and Advocacy organizations, and restore funding for the Alternatives Conference.

Op-Ed: Our mental health laws are failing To start, we need laws and practices that enable mental health workers to help those who simply won’t accept mental health care voluntarily. Laura’s Law, passed in 2002, allows for court-ordered outpatient treatment in certain circumstances, but it hasn’t been fully implemented and does not include the power to medicate at this time.

Neglect of the Severely Mentally Ill Is the Real COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis After 650 cases of COVID were identified in a California psychiatric hospital, lawyers filed an emergency request to force the transfer or release of half the patients. The problems getting patients out of the hospital and into more appropriate placements are longstanding and need to be viewed as part of the intersection of the public mental health sector and the criminal justice system.

‘Every day is an emergency’: The pandemic is worsening psychiatric bed shortages nationwide The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically cut the availability of inpatient psychiatric beds, with facilities across the country forced to reduce their capacity to meet social distancing requirements, stem outbreaks of the virus, or repurpose psychiatric beds to care for the surge of Covid-19 patients. The crisis — combined with years of mental health care budget cuts, rising demand for mental health care, and an existing shortage of both psychiatric beds and providers — appears to have put health care systems on a wartime footing.

We need a new court system for people with intellectual disabilities who get into trouble The time is long overdue for new specialized courts to be established that would be tailored for people with intellectual disability and severe autism who become involved in the criminal justice system. These courts should be staffed similarly to mental health and other treatment courts through partnerships with providers and health systems which have the expertise and experience to deal with the particular and profound challenges that people with intellectual disability and autism encounter when they come in contact with the criminal justice system.

Florida’s neglect of mental illness is a heartless, deadly and long-running problem A few weeks ago, a statewide grand jury issued a blistering indictment about the way Florida handles mental illness, describing it as serial neglect with deadly consequences. “To put it bluntly, our mental health care ‘system’ — if one can even call it that — is a mess,” concluded the jury, which was formed at the request of Gov. Ron DeSantis after the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. “Now is the time for our local and state institutions to take bold action.” The jury also stressed what it called “a simple, indisputable fact: The State of Florida provides less funding per capita than any other state for mental health care and treatment.”

News and Commentary from the Treatment Advocacy Center A summary of recent developments and compelling news stories from across the country highlighting America's broken mental health treatment system and how to fix it.

Think Private Prison Companies Are Going Away Under Biden? They Have Other Plans The big players in private prisons, CoreCivic and Geo Group, are not panicking—and rumors of their impending demise have been exaggerated. That’s because they’ve been steadily diversifying, placing their bets on a future that includes revenue from commercial real estate, electronic monitoring, and halfway houses.

In Indy, an alternative to jail for mental illness and addiction The city of Indianapolis’ new Assessment and Intervention Center, which will provide a safe place to stay — and an alternative to arrest — for our neighbors with mental health and addiction treatment needs, recently opened to the public. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

New St. Louis program to divert mental health calls away from 911 If all goes according to plan, thousands of 911 calls beginning this month will not reach St. Louis police or fire personnel. Calls involving people with mental health issues, or in a mental crisis, may instead be diverted to specially trained behavioral health professionals.

Here's why some people in Indiana avoid opioid addiction treatment In 2018, the Pew Charitable Trusts held focus groups in Indiana and Wisconsin to understand why people with the disorder, also known as OUD, don’t always seek treatment — even when it can save their lives. Many participants who misused opioids had internalized stigma, believing they lacked the discipline or character to stop using opioids. They also feared judgment. One person said of attending a support group, “What if I saw one of my daughter’s teachers? I’m walking into this place and now they know that my daughter has a father who’s an addict?”

Pima County program getting people out of jail quicker, speeding up chances for a new life Bernard is one of thousands of people who have received help through programs within the county’s Criminal Justice Reform Unit, including Housing First, the Jail Population Review Committee, U-MATTER and others. Officials with the CJRU say Bernard is one of many success stories in their ongoing effort to reduce the jail population for the past several years, including more recently to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Want to get the Behavioral Health Alerts newsletter automatically? Subscribe here.

Have comments or feedback about Behavioral Health Alerts? Contact Rick Schwermer at