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Co-Occurring Disorders in Criminal Justice Settings

Using Data: Co-Occurring Disorders and Criminal Justice

Data can be used by criminal justice agencies to identify people with co-occurring disorders. Sharing information also promotes continuity of care (e.g., transition planning, specialized probation caseloads).

Lawful information sharing helps decision making

Information sharing between criminal justice and behavioral health agencies provides criminal justice professionals with knowledge for making appropriate decisions, from case disposition to medication continuity. Information sharing protocols between agencies can meet multiple needs while respecting Federal and state health information privacy laws and professional ethics. To respect laws and ethics policies, agencies should take the following steps:

  • Obtain written consent from individuals for the disclosure of protected health information
  • Share only the minimum data elements necessary
  • Provide access to data for authorized staff for the purpose of cross-checking names between databases

Written consent and uniform releases are helpful tools

Written consent can be obtained through a specialized release form which authorizes the release of protected health information. The release form specifies:

  • Purpose of the release
  • Type of information to be shared
  • Persons and agencies that health information may be provided to or obtained from
  • Expiration date for release

Specialized release forms allow the type of information shared to vary based on the individual's choice or set parameters. For example, a jail's medical service may only need to learn of a recently admitted inmate's diagnosis and current medications. In contrast, the jail transition planner may need to connect with an inmate's case manager and service providers in preparation for reentry.

Criminal justice agencies do not have to obtain a new release each time an individual comes in contact with the criminal justice system. Agencies can use uniform releases, which obtain consent for information-sharing across agencies within the criminal justice system. In addition, uniform releases provide the opportunity for an individual to decide which agencies to permit or withhold the sharing of information. Uniform releases must be compliant with Federal and state regulations.

Data Link is an example of effective and efficient information sharing

In some jails, management information systems are used to match community behavioral health agencies and new inmates. For example, Maricopa County, Arizona, designed and implemented an electronic method of sharing data between its jail and the local public behavioral health authority. Known as the Data Link, it was a one-way matching process where intake information on new inmates was shared.

The Data Link identified full or partial matches. Next, the Data Link notified the individual's case manager for full matches and the authority's diversion staff persons for full and partial matches. Diversion staff investigated the partial matches and initiated the jail diversion eligibility process (National GAINS Center, 1999).

An agreement between the Maricopa County sheriff's office and the public behavioral health authority spelled out in detail how to handle the security of the Data Link and maintain confidentiality of jail intake data. As a result, Maricopa County doubled the identification of newly admitted inmates known to the behavioral health authority who were eligible for jail diversion programming. Case managers located and engaged people who had lost contact with the authority.


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