Division of Criminal Justice Services

Shared Services: Alternatives to Incarceration for Defendants and Offenders with Mental Illness

The NYS Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives (DPCA) is dedicated to providing the tools necessary for probation officers and other community corrections professionals to do the best job possible. One very important skill is having the knowledge and ability to identify individuals who have serious and persistent mental illness. According to a report to Congress in 2000, 25% to 50% of all mentally ill Americans will at some point in their lives become entangled in the criminal justice system.  If not identified, diagnosed and treated, those offenders having a mental illness continue to be re-arrested.  Too often in the past, mental illness has not received adequate attention in working with offenders in the community.

The majority of individuals with mental illness, when receiving appropriate treatment, are no more dangerous than other citizens.  When mental illness is undiagnosed or diagnosed without appropriate treatment, the propensity for violence increases, especially if combined with substance abuse.

For the past five years DPCA has made great strides in equipping the probation and community corrections workforce with tools. COMPAS, an adult risk and needs assessment tool, was developed, normed, and validated for New York State criminal justice defendants, and has been greatly enhanced with the addition of questions provided by the New York State Office of Mental Health.  These questions are a basic static screening protocol eliciting history of mental health diagnoses, hospitalization and treatment.  DPCA is also implementing the use of YASI, a youth assessment instrument combining risks, strengths and protective factors associated with youth presenting at probation or other community supervision programs. This tool assists in determining the appropriate range of interventions needed and includes a mental health component. In addition to the use of YASI, DPCA is piloting and promoting the use of V-DISC, the Voice-Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children. The V-DISC is a youth self administered diagnostic tool currently used in a variety of juvenile justice settings to identify youth at high risk for psychiatric conditions, including suicide. And DPCA has contracted with the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES), to develop a computer-based learning tool detailing the signs and symptoms of mental illness to be used by community corrections professionals. This computer disk entitled, The Signs of Mental Illness: Training in Identification of Mental Illness for Probation and Community Corrections Practitioners is being distributed to probation departments and to Alternatives to Incarceration programs (ATI) across

The NYS Office of Mental Health Community Adult Forensic Services Unit, in partnership with DPCA, is developing a curriculum on mental illness and the mental health system for supervisors in probation departments and ATI programs in New York State. The curriculum is being piloted at several locations and promises to advance the expertise of probation officers and their interaction with county and other mental health resources in very significant ways.

In 2002, DPCA under its Services for a Shared Population initiative began awarding seven grants to two NYC based agencies and five upstate county collaborations, led by probation, for specialized mental health services to defendants and offenders with serious mental illness (eligible Axis I diagnosis).  One of these programs, Lewis County, is using the model of Transition to Independence Process to assist young people with emotional and/or behavioral difficulties in making a successful transition into adulthood. Youth aged 16 - 21 are eligible if on probation in the county and meet the mental health criteria established. To ensure the success of these programs and to model local cooperation, DPCA requested assistance from other state agencies and other organizations, and a committee, Services for a Shared Population:  Defendants and Offenders with Mental Illness, was formed. This committee includes representatives from the NYS Commission on Quality of Care for the Mentally Disabled, NYS Office of Mental Health, NYS Office of Addiction Services and Supports, NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, NY Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors, Inc., the Council of Probation Administrators, and Rensselaer County Unified Services.

In continuation of DPCA's intent in this area, a group spearheaded by Rensselaer County Unified Services with funding provided by the NYS Commission on Quality of Care for the Mentally Disabled through DPCA worked in 2003 and 2004 with a model protocol which mapped the strengths and weaknesses of the county's mental health continuum of care.  This mapping exercise identified areas to improve the already well thought out provision of services for individuals with mental illness in the county including an MOU with the county probation department. Additionally, this project arranged for a professional evaluation of the Shared Population programs to identify strategies to be used in implementing programs for individuals with mental illness, under the supervision of criminal justice, by other jurisdictions across the state.

In 2002, the New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives (DPCA) first awarded seven grants mostly at $50,000 per year for a five year period, to provide specialized mental health services to defendants and offenders who are seriously mentally ill (eligible Axis I diagnosis).

In the pilot phase of this initiative, one of the awards provided, beginning in July 1, 2001, was to the Education and Assistance Corporation for a project implemented in the Bronx, New York City. The subsequent successful award recipients received funding to continue with program development and enhanced services for a five year period, beginning July 1, 2002.

The following is a list of the award recipients:

New York City Metropolitan Area:

  • The Bronx Mental Health Court Diversion Services (Education and Assistance Corp.)
  • The Nathaniel ACT Team (Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services)

Other Programs Located Around New York State

  • The Albany County Rapid Assessments, Interventions, and Linkages
  • Cattauraugus County Safe Communities/Safe Futures
  • Erie County Shared Population Team for Single Point of Accountability
  • Lewis County Community Mental Health, Transitions to Independence Process
  • The Madison County Forensic Case Management Program

The Bronx Mental Health Diversion Services, operated by the Education and Assistance Corporation (EAC), has been providing screening, assessment, treatment planning, placement and case management each year, since July 2001, for 100 or more seriously mentally ill offenders with co-occurring substance abuse disorders. This project has enhanced the Bronx Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities (TASC) alternative to incarceration service for prison-bound, substance abusing offenders, including the District Attorney's Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison Program, for defendants with serious and persistent mental illnesses. The program model builds upon the current TASC model, by adding a multi-disciplinary mental health team to meet the needs of dually-diagnosed offenders and uses a special Supreme Court Mental Health Part to establish treatment diversion orders and to monitor treatment compliance. The unit includes a psychiatrist, psychologist, and specially trained forensic case managers who work together to achieve the best treatment outcomes. With the court, the treatment team determines an accurate diagnosis, performs specialized risk assessments, develops a treatment plan, and monitors and coordinates the care of the identified defendants, throughout their participation in the program.

The Nathaniel Project , created by the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES), began work under this project in 2002 and provides 24 months of extra-intensive supervision for felon-indicted individuals who are seriously and persistently mentally ill. The program offers comprehensive mental health and integrated substance abuse treatment, rehabilitation, case management, court advocacy and reporting, and monitored linkages to housing and social services. The project effectively links the justice and mental health systems and has a track record of services for this specialized population. The Nathaniel Project was licensed as an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) program by the NYS Office of Mental Health in 2003. The ACT team is a mobile multi-disciplinary staff including a psychiatrist and nurse in addition to social workers, a substance abuse counselor, and a peer specialist who provides intensive treatment services to participants directly in the community.

The Albany County Rapid Assessment, Intervention and Linkage Program combines the abilities of the Albany County Probation Department with the Rehabilitation Support Services, Inc. for a placement and a case management service that coordinates services and monitors community-based conditions of release for females who have an Axis I mental health diagnosis and are under probation supervision. The case management service links individuals with available mental health resources and in collaboration with probation, works to ensure that participants follow through with treatment. General mental health training for probation officers, as well as crisis intervention services, is also provided.

Cattaraugus County Safe Communities/Safe Futures has an intensive probation program operated in conjunction with the Cattaraugus County Community Services Department's Forensic Continuing Day Treatment Program. This program operates as a day reporting center for those probationers in need of such services and provides intensive supervision. Areas addressed in this collaborative effort include treatment, medication, compliance, substance abuse, education, employment, homelessness and life skills. Particular emphasis is placed on working with individuals who are currently incarcerated or who are at high risk of incarceration with serious mental illnesses.

The Erie County Shared Population Program is using an integrated service approach for addressing mentally ill defendants and offenders supervised by Erie County Probation Department in their community working with the Erie County Department of Mental Health, Forensic Mental Health and Horizon Health Services, Inc. The model features the utilization of a therapeutic team review of defendants at several points in criminal justice process. Intensive case planning and individualized treatment plans are conducted with all enrollees using a person centered approach.

The Lewis County Transitions to Independence Process (TIP) has been developed within the Community Mental Health Center to work with youth (16 to 21 years of age) who have a serious mental illness and are defendants/offenders under the probation department's jurisdiction. TIP is a promising evidenced-based intervention that focuses on four primary domains: employment, education, housing and community life adjustment. The Program Coordinator assists participants in obtaining and/or stabilizing resources related to these categories, including linkage to services, case monitoring and providing transportation as necessary. Program effectiveness is enhanced by using a variety of other existing community services.

The Madison County Forensic Case Management Program was jointly developed by the Madison County Probation and Mental Health Departments. In June 2003, Central New York Services, Inc. was contracted to provide an employee who serves as the Forensic Case Manager, located in the Mental Health Department. That person will work with Probation, Mental Health and BOCES to develop shared services plans for program participants. The program also assists in applying for benefits with the Department of Social Services and other appropriate services such as vocational and educational services.