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Projects: Justice Reform for Healthy Communities

The millions of people who cycle through our nation’s courts, jails, and prisons every year experience far higher rates of chronic health problems, infectious diseases, substance use, and serious mental illness than the general population. Justice Reform for Healthy Communities is a year-long initiative that aims to improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities most affected by mass incarceration. Guided by a national advisory board comprised of public health and criminal justice policymakers, practitioners, researchers, and advocates, the initiative advances its mission through public education, coalition building, briefings, and publications. 

The mission of this initiative is to raise awareness of the link between public health and mass incarceration and to devise and share solutions that improve health outcomes, increase the use of alternatives to incarceration, and take advantage of new opportunities created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The initiative partners with colleagues from across the nation to apply the tools of public health, including epidemiology and health policy, education, and ethics to address the challenges posed by mass incarceration.

As part of the initiative, Vera is producing a series of publications and events that examine the intersection of public health and mass incarceration. The first report describes the individual and community-level health impacts of incarceration, with a particular focus on the relationship between mass incarceration and health disparities in communities of color. Subsequent publications will delve more deeply into how a public health framework can reduce mass incarceration’s health impacts on historically vulnerable populations and be used by police, attorneys, and courts to promote treatment and other alternatives to incarceration.

Why do we do this work?

Today, about 14.5 percent of men and 31 percent of women in jails have a serious mental illness, compared to fewer than 5 percent in the general population. This disproportionate burden of disease behind bars, coupled with the continuous expansion of the criminal justice system and its long-lasting collateral consequences, have widened the gap between health outcomes along racial and socioeconomic lines in communities. For example, research in epidemiology indicates that had the U.S. incarceration rate remained at its 1973 level, then the infant mortality rate would have been 7.8 percent lower than it was in 2003, and disparity between black and white infant deaths nearly 15 percent lower. The burden of disease behind bars and the negative impacts of incarceration on the health of communities is a public health concern that can and should be addressed as part of broader public health and criminal justice reform efforts.

 

First-Episode Incarceration: Creating a Recovery-Informed Framework for Integrated Mental Health and Criminal Justice Responses
01/29/2016
The number of people diagnosed with serious mental illness in the U.S. criminal justice system has reached unprecedented levels. Increasingly, people recognize that the justice system is no substitute for a well-functioning community mental health system. Although a range of targeted interventions...
First Do No Harm: Advancing Public Health in Policing Practices
11/16/2015
Millions of medically vulnerable and socially marginalized people cycle through the criminal justice system each year due to serious structural problems entrenched in American society. The absence of a coherent and effective social safety net means that people lack access to physical and mental...
On Life Support: Public Health in the Age of Mass Incarceration
11/18/2014
*/ Mass incarceration is one of the major public health challenges facing the United States, as the millions of people cycling through the courts, jails, and prisons every year experience far higher rates of chronic health problems, substance use, and mental illness than the general population....
03/07/2016
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There is growing attention to the intersection of poverty, mental illness, and criminal justice. Just last week, Vox published an article describing how the criminal justice system has become the default mental health system in the United States....
11/17/2015
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Last month, the New York Times reported that more than 130 law enforcement officials have launched an initiative to reduce both crime and incarceration, representing a public shift in philosophy from previously popular tough-on-crime rhetoric. As a...
08/26/2015
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I am asked daily why The California Endowment—a health foundation where I serve as a program director—is interested in criminal justice reform. I now have an answer that doesn’t require me to say one word. The Endowment and the American Public...
03/27/2015
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*/ “Breaking Point: New York’s Mental Health Crisis” is a powerful broadcast series about the intersection of poverty, mental health, and the criminal justice system by Cindy Rodriguez, of New York City’s public radio station WNYC. The Vera...
03/19/2015
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*/ “Breaking Point: New York’s Mental Health Crisis” is a powerful broadcast series about the intersection of poverty, mental health, and the criminal justice system by Cindy Rodriguez, of New York City’s public radio station WNYC. The Vera...
Robert Cardero
President and Chief Program Officer, BOOM!Health
   
Tom Dart
Cook County Sherriff
 
Robert Fullilove
Associate Dean for Community and Minority Affairs and Professor, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Senior Advisor, Bard Prison Initiative
 
Steve Leifman
Associate Administrative Judge, Criminal Division, Miami FL
   
Glenn Martin
Founder and Chief Risk Taker, JustLeadershipUSA
   
 Lisa Metsch
Chair and Stephen Smith Professor of Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
 
Jim Pugel
Chief Deputy of the King County Sheriff’s Office, Former Chief of Seattle Police Department
 
 
Shira Shavit
Associate Professor, UCSF School of Medicine, Director, Transitions Clinic
   
Robin Steinberg
Founder and Executive Director, Bronx Defenders
 
Jeremy Travis
President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice