SAMHSA’s State and Federal Collaborations on Criminal and Juvenile Justice Issues

SAMHSA works with several federal agencies to divert into treatment people who come in contact with law enforcement and justice systems.

Partnerships/Interdepartmental Collaborations with the Department of Justice

SAMHSA is actively engaged in a number of federal partnerships designed to bring about changes in the criminal justice process and provision of care for people with behavioral health needs. For example, SAMHSA and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) have a longstanding partnership that brings programs and policy staff together to better coordinate the respective missions of these agencies as they relate to the criminal justice system. In addition to regular communication and meetings, SAMHSA and BJA review their respective grant programs in order to share and disseminate knowledge to the field and to reduce duplication of federal efforts and increase federal efficiencies. SAMHSA also coordinates with DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to partner on policy and program activities regarding the juvenile justice system. SAMHSA continues to work with both DOJ agencies to jointly fund discretionary grant programs for expanding behavioral health treatment services in these justice systems.

SAMHSA also participates on the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Council), an independent body within the executive branch of the federal government. The council’s primary functions are to coordinate federal juvenile delinquency prevention programs and other federal programs and activities that address care for unaccompanied juveniles as well as for missing and exploited children.

Training and Technical Assistance Resources

SAMHSA’s GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation provides programs, technical assistance, and resources to the field and to SAMHSA-funded grantees as they work to help communities deliver mental health and substance use services to people in contact with the justice system. The GAINS Center distributes topical resource information, such as webinars and training, on co-occurring disorders, integrating services, jail diversion, offender reentry treatment services, and specialty courts.

SAMHSA's National Center for Trauma-Informed Care and Alternatives to Seclusion and Restraint (NCTIC) supports interest in developing approaches to eliminate the use of seclusion, restraints, and other coercive practices and to further advance the knowledge base related to implementation of trauma-informed approaches across multiple sectors, including criminal and juvenile justice. NCTIC provides technical assistance through in-person organizational technical assistance, virtual learning networks, technical assistance materials, and links to other resources supported by the federal government.

State Policy Academies

In partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, SAMHSA convenes state policy academies that focus on juvenile justice reform for justice-involved individuals with behavioral health problems. In a series of state juvenile justice policy academies, state teams were convened to implement evidence-based practices developed and tested by the MacArthur Foundation’s “Models for Change” Program. These policy initiatives have focused on diversion at the earliest point possible and strategies to reduce disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system.

SAMHSA convened several tribal policy academies focused on alternatives to incarceration in Indian Country. Learn more at the Tribal Affairs topic. SAMHSA also works to address the myth that people with mental health issues are more likely to commit crimes, when, in fact, those with behavioral health disorders are more likely to become crime victims.

School Responder Model

Building a School Responder Model: Guidance From Existing Diversion Initiatives for Youth With Behavioral Health Needs is an interactive, peer resource to create a School Responder Model (SRM). It provides tools to help localities meet student behavioral health needs through community-based services instead of exclusionary school discipline and justice system referral.

The site was developed by teams from Nevada, New York, West Virginia, and Wisconsin that participated in the 2015–16 Policy Academy-Action Network Initiative, co-sponsored by SAMHSA and the MacArthur Foundation. Users will find guidance on how to begin an SRM and tools to support SRM development, such as:

  • A summary of potential behavioral health screening tools
  • Considerations for defining the population of focus
  • Targeted messages to engage various stakeholders
  • Sample presentations and training structures
  • Community engagement tools
  • Flowcharts
  • Memorandums of Understanding
  • Consent forms

The creation of this product was coordinated by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice. Direct any questions to

Last Updated: 03/07/2017