New Services for Released Prisoners with Mental Illness in Mercer County, N.J.

Improving outcomes for prisoners with mental illness

In 2005, Greater Trenton Behavioral HealthCare launched an initiative to assist released prisoners in Mercer County, N.J., who suffered from mental illness and substance abuse problems. The project was funded under New Jersey Health Initiatives (NJHI), a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

The agency partnered with a range of organizations representing government, health care providers, the mentally ill and ex-offenders to:

  • Implement a model for prisoner discharge planning and services geared to the needs of those with serious mental illness or substance abuse problems.
  • Gather data useful in reevaluating statewide public policy for serving former prisoners with serious mental illness or substance abuse problems, including:
    • The risk of hospitalization or re-incarceration
    • The level of services needed
    • Follow-through and adherence to treatments

A project advisory committee—made up of staff and representatives of the partnering organizations—provided guidance and coordination.

Key Results

  • Greater Trenton Behavioral HealthCare reported the following results to RWJF in 2008:

    • From July 2005 to June 2008, Greater Trenton Behavioral HealthCare received grant support under NJHI to provide re-entry assistance to 176 people—45 from state prisons and 131 from the county jail. These clients received assessment, discharge planning, case management, service coordination and needed follow-up services for 12 months or more. Services included:
      • Assistance in obtaining public benefits (120 clients, or 68% of those served)
      • Providing medication (88 clients, or 50% of those served)
      • Linking clients to treatment (79 clients, or 45% of those served)
      • Securing housing (111 clients, or 63% of those served)
    • Re-incarceration rates during the project were substantially lower than the national average:
      • Of those released from state prisons, 20 percent (9 of 45) were re-incarcerated. The national average for state prisons is 81 percent.
      • Of those released from the jail, 30 percent (39 of 131) were re-incarcerated. The national average for local jails is 79 percent.
    • The project fostered a broad-based systems change in the handling of released prisoners, including:
      • Providing re-entry services to state prisoners with mental illness
      • Improving access to financial assistance for re-entering prisoners
      • Improving the quality of treatment through staff training
      • Better service coordination among courts, corrections and health agencies

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