Online Program

Incorporating mental health into discussions of criminal justice policies: Case studies of four health impact assessments

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 : 8:50 a.m. - 9:10 a.m.

Kim Gilhuly, MPH, Human Impact Partners, Northampton, MA
Holly Avey, PhD, Human Impact Partners, Oakland, CA
Lili Farhang, MPH, Human Impact Partners, Oakland, CA
Jonathan Heller, PhD, Human Impact Partners, Oakland, CA
Marnie Purciel-Hill, MPH/ MSUP, Human Impact Partners, Oakland, CA
Dario Maciel, MPH, Human Impact Partners, Oakland
Sophia Simon-Ortiz, MPH, Human Impact Partners, Oakland
Background/Purpose: Health Impact Assessments can be used to predict the impact of policies that address disparities within the Criminal Justice System.  Grave inequities and negative consequences of incarceration compound the impact of time spent in jail or prison.  One out of three black men go to prison compared to one in 17 white men. Criminal Justice involvement leads to negative mental health outcomes -  in California, the average suicide rate is 1 every 11 days.  Involvement with the Criminal Justice System is highly correlated with mental health symptoms and substance addiction.  This presentation offers findings from four Health Impact Assessments that addressed the impact of Criminal Justice System policies on factors that influence mental health status.

Methods:  Policies addressed in the four Health Impact Assessments included: (i) funding substance abuse and mental health treatment instead of prison; (ii) reducing low-level crime sentences to misdemeanors; (iii) providing college tuition assistance  for prisoners; and (iv) gang injunctions. Research questions focused on how these policies impact a series of mental health variables (stress, depression, anxiety, and suicide) in addition to determinants of mental health (i.e. income, family cohesion, access to housing, and stigma). Data sources and methods included:  Literature review, qualitative data collection from impacted populations, secondary data analyses, and forecasting of future impacts of the policies on the target populations.

Findings: With the exception of gang injunctions, the policies examined were effective at reducing crime and increasing prisoners' abilities to manage addiction and mental illness, employability, and family cohesion. Gang injunctions trend in the opposite direction.

Implications: One in five Americans have a criminal record. The inclusion of mental health outcomes in criminal justice system Health Impact Assessments help us understand how policy impacts incarcerated individuals and the families and communities they live in.

Learning Areas:

Advocacy for health and health education
Public health or related public policy
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Discuss how four health impact assessments of criminal justice policies incorporated the topic of mental health, and the value of including mental health in the policy discussions

Keyword(s): Criminal Justice, Mental Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Human Impact Partners was the first organization to nationally use health impact assessment (HIA) as a tool to increase the use of health and equity in public decisions. I have an MPH from the University of California at Berkeley and have conducted or provided technical assistance for more than 40 HIAs or Health in All Policies (HiAP) projects across the country in collaboration with public health departments, advocates, community organizations, academics, planners, and others.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.