The following symposium explores four approaches to reduce the number of individuals with behavioral health needs in the criminal legal system. The first two studies examine the applicability of localized, place-based strategies to understanding mental illness, substance use, and criminal justice involvement. One study involves qualitative interviews and focus groups with criminal justice practitioners, formerly incarcerated men and women, and community residents exploring the potential of localized strategies to reduce criminal justice involvement of the target population. The second study examines the process of developing a community advisory board in two high incarceration neighborhoods to develop a survey tool and collect data on localized resources and social networks to prevent criminal justice contact among individuals with behavioral heal. The third study evaluates effective practices in community supervision to reduce recidivism among individuals with behavioral health diagnoses. The fourth study describes the implementation opportunities and challenges of conducting system-wide screening for behavioral health issues in a large probation department.
The papers within this symposium exemplify a range of social work research methods, including quantitative and qualitative approaches, community-engaged research, and implementation science. Each panelist presents analyses examining racial, behavioral, and spatial-level disparities in the administration of criminal justice with recommendations to redress these disparities within social work practice. The implications of the research are explored across ecological dimensions, ranging from individual-level interventions to policy recommendations. The panel provides critical insights into the opportunities for the profession's smart decarceration challenge to ameliorate behavioral health disparities in communities disproportionately burdened with punishment.