Beginning January 11, 2019, the SAMSHA SOAR Technical Assistance Center worked alongside local SOAR criminal justice (CJ) leads to plan and prepare SOAR Implementation meetings for six sites that were awarded the SOAR CJ Technical Assistance Opportunity.  On May 13, 2019, the final Implementation meeting was held for this third round of awardees. The SOAR CJ Implementation meeting is a full-day, on-site meeting with key stakeholders and agency leads to review the existing barriers, assess the resources, and identify opportunities to strengthen SOAR efforts to complete applications for eligible individuals.  Cumulatively, over 120 partners from state, federal, and local criminal justice, behavioral health, and community service agencies met to strategically plan to implement SOAR in programs that provide services to people with serious mental illness who are justice involved.

Each awardee sees SOAR as a tool to help make reentry possible and believes in the possibilities that Social Security benefits can bring to the people that they serve. Each organization plans to include SOAR as part of the great work that each already do to increase post-release success, promote access to housing, and link individuals to treatment opportunities.

We are excited to continue to support these organizations in their efforts to include SOAR as a tool to promote reentry success! The six awarded sites are:

  • California Department of State Hospitals – Coalinga, California
  • Riverside University Health System in collaboration with Riverside County Jail, California
  • Legal Council for Health Justice in collaboration with Cook County Department of Corrections, Chicago, Illinois
  • Volunteers of America Southeast Louisiana
  • Second Chance Reentry, Long Island, New York
  • Chattanooga/Hamilton County Mental Health Court, Tennessee

California Department of State Hospitals, Coalinga, California

The Department of State Hospitals (DSH) manages the California state hospital system, which provides mental health services to patients admitted into five state hospitals. There are two types of commitments to California state hospitals:  forensic and civil. Established in 2005, Coalinga provides mental health services to patients with a history of criminal justice involvement, severe and disabling mental illness, and a history of chronic substance use and homelessness. Coalinga’s social work department, in collaboration with its sister clinical departments, developed a SOAR Pilot Program approved by the medical executive team, clinical administrators, and executive leaders.  Currently, there are five SOAR-trained case managers, overseen by the Chief of Social Work and Supervising Psychiatric Social Workers, who will begin assisting with SOAR applications.

Riverside University Health System in collaboration with Riverside County Jail, California

The Riverside County Jail system currently consists of 4,000 beds with expected growth to 5,656 beds in April 2019 after opening the John J. Benoit Detention Center opens in Indio, CA. Roughly 16 percent of individuals incarcerated at Riverside County jail have been diagnosed with and, while incarcerated, are being treated for a serious mental illness rendered by the Riverside University Health System (RUHS-BH) and Detention Behavioral Health (DBH). The RUHS-BH and DBH approach to SOAR implementation are to leverage the clinical staff already working inside of Riverside County’s five adult detention facilities to complete SOAR training and become SOAR program clinicians who will immediately begin completing and submitting SOAR applications as part of their normal and customary salaried workflow.

Legal Council for Health Justice in collaboration with Cook County Department of Corrections, Chicago, Illinois

The Legal Council for Health Justice (LCHJ), in collaboration with Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDOC), leads SOAR implementation with a focus on expediting access to federal disability benefits for persons with serious mental illness who are nearing release from Cook County Jail. LCHJ will work to provide direct legal services to assist offenders nearing release and in need of strategic disability benefits advocacy. The goal is to provide trauma-informed disability advocacy and explore how to integrate Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) advocacy into existing processes at Cook County jail to improve an individual’s chances of receiving a favorable disability determination to end the cycle of incarceration and homelessness.

There is strong support from the CCDOC Chief of Programs, Social Security Administration (SSA) and Department of Disability Services (DDS) representatives, Chicago’s Problem Solving Courts, and homeless and community reentry service providers to assist in SOAR development. LCHJ is committed to SOAR implementation and the CJ lead has the backing and support of the Executive Director. The LCHJ vision for SOAR is to pilot SOAR work and evaluate the process for 1 year. A SOAR TA pilot closely aligns with other legal services administered by LCHJ and will become a routine and integral part of the behavioral health services. To ensure the success of the pilot, LCHJ will work with both CCDOC and SSA to explore the most efficient methods to identify and access potential applicants. Currently, the Cook County jail is in the final stages of confirming the pre-release process within Cook County Jail.

Volunteers of America Southeast Louisiana

Volunteers of America Southeast Louisiana (VOASELA) is internationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), American Correctional Association (ACA). VOASELA operates a Residential Reentry Center (RRC) which has the capacity for 100 individuals, through a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, reintegrating in the New Orleans area. In addition, VOASELA reentry services provide comprehensive transitional services, intensive case management and mentoring services to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DOC) offenders. Through their commitment to the “mission of rehabilitating offenders and preparing them to successfully reenter and reintegrate into society,” VOASELA intends to use the SOAR model to assist eligible program participants and is currently planning a SOAR training cohort for staff that provides services to returning citizens.

Second Chance Reentry, Long Island, New York

Created in 2009, Second Chance Reentry (SCR) is a 501 (c) 3 organization created by and for individuals personally impacted by the criminal justice system. SCR’s goal is to address the barriers to healthcare system within the local jail and improve coordinated discharge planning services available to individuals awaiting release.  SCR’s mission is “to empower formerly incarcerated individuals to create sustainable and community-based reentry solutions that build self-efficacy and foster social and economic mobility as they transition back into society.” In collaboration with community partners in the areas of reentry, mental health, and homeless services SCR continues the work provided by peer educators to include benefits acquisition using the SOAR model as part of the array of services used to assist individuals upon release.

Chattanooga/Hamilton County Mental Health Court, Tennessee

Founded in 2015, the Hamilton County Mental Health Court (MHC) is designed to be a “one-stop-shop” for individuals with mental illness who are justice involved – linking participants to diagnostic help, treatment, and supports necessary while in custody and upon return to the community. “Over 50 percent of all contacts are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and over 80 percent have a co-occurring substance use disorder and most do not currently receive SSI/SSDI.” MHC focus is to utilize SOAR to assist MHC participants with needed resources, reduce recidivism, and reduce county costs.

MHC currently operates in-reach services to local jails and will continue to do so alongside two staff members of Hamilton Sheriff’s Office staff committed to providing SOAR assistance.  MHC intends to fund the initial phase of SOAR work through reallocation of existing resources in their current budget while simultaneously following through on their request for a dedicated SOAR staff to be added to their department in their 2019 County Budget Request.