Incarceration and Behavioral Health

New seminar focuses on recovery over incarceration

Mental Health America Middle Tennessee and its partners are leading the call to Tennessee: now is the time to invest in pre-arrest diversion services, both to help Tennesseans who are struggling with mental illness and addiction, and to properly steward tax payer dollars. In cities all over the United States, jail diversion services are proven to save significant state and local dollars while providing citizens the care they need—saving lives and funding.

The American Jail Association estimates that more than 650,000 bookings each year involve persons with mental illness—who then become 16-25% of the national inmate population. The vast majority of these mentally ill inmates are arrested for simple bizarre behavior or non-violent crimes, yet spend an average of 15 months longer in incarceration than non-mentally ill prisoners, at a much higher cost to the state. Research has found that one year’s worth of trial and jail time can cost the state 20-25 times as much as crisis treatment and counseling for the same person.

In Tennessee, the 17th highest incarceration state in the nation, 28.4% (6,188) of 21,773 prisoners are flagged as having mental health issues needing attention, yet only 2.5% of them are enrolled in mental health programs. Furthermore, approximately 48% of Tennessee inmates have an identified, untreated substance abuse disorder. For these thousands of inmates with mental health needs, Tennessee Department of Corrections investments jump from $45,677 per year per person, to a staggering range of $68,515 – $102,772 per year per person.

And yet, a brand new national study confirms that when states spend money on mental health, they save significantly on jail expenditures. In fact, both greater public inpatient mental health and community mental health spending reduces jail populations and expenses (Social Science & Medicine, Volume 170, December 2016). Based on these and many other studies’ conclusions, MHAMT and its partners are vociferously advocating for the 2017-2018 state budget to allocate an additional $10 million to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for the purpose of diverting mental health patients from the criminal justice system to the behavioral health system whenever possible.

Mental Health America Middle Tennessee, along with its community partners, will host a seminar on this urgent topic, Incarceration and Behavioral Health, at Trevecca Community Church in Nashville on February 21, 2017. Guest speakers will include Leon Evans, creator of The Restoration Center in San Antonio, as well as a representative of National Association of Counties’ Stepping Up Initiative. Continuing Education credits are available for this training, and space is limited. For more information and to register, visit our website at