Stepping Up: Using Data-Driven Public Management to Fix the Mental Health Crisis in Jails

Richard Cho

Today, it’s no surprise to hear that jails across the nation see an estimated 2 million people with serious mental illnesses each year —almost three-quarters of whom also have substance use disorders —or that the prevalence of people with serious mental illnesses in jails is three to six times higher than for the general population.  Once incarcerated, people with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and upon release are at a higher risk of returning to jail than people without these illnesses. Despite counties’ and states’ tremendous efforts to address this problem, they are often thwarted by significant obstacles, such as coordinating the efforts of multiple systems and operating with minimal resources. Dr. Richard Cho of the Council of State Governments Justice Center proposes a new approach that combines the treatment research of the behavioral health field and the criminal justice Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) model with collaborative public management strategies.  This approach is being modeled in counties who have passed resolutions and joined the national Stepping Up initiative.  Implementing systems change using a single framework guides counties to develop data informed planning to bring about the solutions needed to reduce the number of individuals with mental illness in jails.

Richard Cho

Richard Cho is a nationally recognized expert on the intersection of homelessness and criminal justice system involvement, and on the intersection of health care and housing. Before joining the Justice Center, he served as deputy director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), the agency that leads the federal government’s response to homelessness. Prior to his time at USICH, Mr. Cho served as the director of Innovations and Research at the Corporation for Supportive Housing. He advised the City and State of New York in the design and implementation of the $1 billion New York/New York III Supportive Housing Initiative. He also helped guide the implementation of New York City’s Housing First program for people with active substance use disorders. Mr. Cho has a BA from the University of Chicago, an MA in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is completing a PhD in public administration at New York University.

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