“Reducing Barriers for Ex-offenders with Mental Illnesses”

Reducing Barriers for Ex-offenders with Mental Illnesses

After release from prison or jail, ex-offenders face incredible barriers to finding treatment, employment and safe housing—the key factors that will keep them out of jail or prison. These barriers are even greater for ex-offenders with mental illnesses.

People with mental

illnesses are significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

  • § Currently, about 75% of women and 25% of men in prison are receiving psychiatric or psychological care (Minnesota Dept. of Corrections, 2009).
  • § At least 60% of Minnesota jail inmates have a mental illness (NAMI Minnesota, 2006).
  • § By contrast, about 26% of people in the general population have a mental illness (National Institute of Mental Health, 2008).
  • § The lack of access to mental health treatment in corrections and in the community creates a revolving door of ex-offenders back into the criminal justice system. Without the appropriate resources, ex-offenders with mental illnesses are likely to be re-incarcerated.
Coordinated responses

can work well and allow counties and the state to use resources more


  • § Re-incarceration rates have fallen by two-thirds for participants in Stearns County’s jail discharge planning program. Re-incarceration rates are typically much higher without discharge planning.
  • § Through discharge planning, Stearns County has opened up beds for other inmates and reduced the need to pay for additional jail beds in other counties.

Policy responses:

To stop the revolving door and improve public safety, jails and prisons should offer discharge planning services for inmates with mental illnesses. Returning offenders are less likely to re-offend if they have the tools necessary for them to successfully reenter the community, including treatment and rehabilitative services, identification, a reasonable supply of medication, application for health care benefits, access to housing and employment. To do this, Minnesota should (1) hire more prison release planners and (2) fund pilot projects and develop standards for counties to conduct discharge planning from jails.

Minnesota should also take steps to divert people with mental illnesses from the criminal justice system into treatment when appropriate. The state should (1) create standards and funding for mental health courts, (2) hire more public defenders, (3) fund and provide more crisis intervention team (CIT) training for local law enforcement officials and (4) provide funding for a basic four-hour or more class to increase law enforcement officials’ understanding of mental illness.

Questions? Contact Sue Abderholden at NAMI Minnesota:



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