Commonwealth Medicine collaborates on Massachusetts initiative providing community-based supports for individuals with justice involvement

December 17, 2019

Commonwealth Medicine experts in health care policy, law, and delivery for justice-involved populations played a key role in designing a new demonstration project for Massachusetts to improve the delivery of health services to individuals involved with the criminal justice system. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) developed the demonstration project, which will be administered by MassHealth in collaboration with the Trial Court, the Department of Correction (DOC), the Massachusetts Parole Board, and the Middlesex and Worcester county sheriff’s offices with the support of Commonwealth Medicine, UMass Medical School.

Connecting individuals with ongoing care and supports

Drawing on broad knowledge and building on elements that have proven effective from other programs across the country , the Commonwealth Medicine team completed a literature review, conducted stakeholder interviews, performed data analysis, developed an evidence-based policy and program design, supported the vendor procurement process, and provided training to the staff who will work with the justice involved population. The project team includes Health, Law & Policy experts Katharine London, MS; Rachel Gershon, JD, MPH; and Jeremy Tourish, MPH; and Health and Criminal Justice Program expert Meaghan DuPuis, LMHC. Former Commonwealth Medicine staff, including Julie White, Roosa Tikkanen, Rebecca Laes-Kushner and Abiola (Abby) Animashaun, also made strong contributions.

The resulting demonstration project helps individuals with behavioral health conditions who are currently on parole or probation, or reentering the community after incarceration, get the services they need. It provides justice-involved individuals with a person who helps them access the community supports and health care services they need to live successfully in the community.

Our role: creating the path to serve a vulnerable, high-risk population

“Justice-involved individuals have intense health care needs and face many barriers to accessing services. At Commonwealth Medicine, we are proud to support this important project, drawing on our unique combination of critical knowledge and experience in criminal justice health care and Medicaid law,” said London, principal for Health Law & Policy at Commonwealth Medicine.

In comparison to the non-incarcerated population, justice-involved individuals have a higher incidence of chronic medical conditions and are more likely to suffer from severe mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders.  For example, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that former Massachusetts adult inmates are 120 times more likely to die from opioid overdose than individuals with no incarceration history, and the risk of death from opioid overdose is highest in the first 30 days after release.

Supports for justice-involved individuals will include accompanying them to appointments with medical and behavioral health providers, assisting them with accessing social services and benefits, and obtaining and maintaining stable housing. Enrollment began in September 2019 and initially launched in Middlesex and Worcester counties, with the goal to expand statewide in 2021.

“By providing more timely access to medical and behavioral health treatment and social supports to high-risk individuals, we can promote their successful transition back into our communities, improve their health, and reduce recidivism,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said in a EOHHS news release.

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