Criminal Justice / Mental Health Consensus Project

The Criminal Justice / Mental Health Consensus Project is an unprecedented national, two-year effort to prepare specific recommendations that local, state, and federal policymakers, and criminal justice and mental health professionals, can use to improve the criminal justice system's response to people with mental illness in the United States.

The goal of this project has been to elicit ideas from some of the most respected criminal justice and mental health practitioners in the United States, to develop recommendations that reflect a consensus among seemingly opposing viewpoints, and to disseminate these findings widely so they can make the greatest possible impact on a national problem that affects every community. Throughout the project, every effort has been made to provide concrete, practical approaches that can be tailored to the unique needs of each community.

The Council of State Governments (CSG)—in partnership with the Police Executive Research Forum, the Pretrial Services Resource Center, the Association of State Correctional Administrators, and the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors—coordinated this project. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and the Center for Behavioral Health, Justice Public Policy provided CSG with extensive and valuable assistance. Together, representatives of these seven organizations made up the Steering Committee for this project.

Following two meetings of a focus group comprising various criminal justice and mental health stakeholders in 1999, project partners established four advisory boards. Collectively, these advisory groups included more than 100 leading state lawmakers, police chiefs, officers, sheriffs, district attorneys, public defenders, judges, court administrators, state corrections directors, community corrections officials, victim advocates, consumers, family members and other mental health advocates, county commissioners, state mental health directors, behavioral health care providers, substance abuse experts, and clinicians. In addition to the insights of these experts, the project benefited from surveys and document reviews that project partners conducted to identify relevant efforts from the field.

The policy statements, recommendations for implementation, and program examples described in this report are important products of the Consensus Project. The true value of this initiative, however, will be the extent to which policymakers replicate in their jurisdictions the substantive bipartisan, cross-system dialogue that this project has fostered, and the extent to which agents of change—whether elected officials, criminal justice and mental health professionals, or community leaders—implement the practical, specific suggestions contained in this document.