A few weeks ago I returned from the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association. After attending a variety of sessions developed by the Mental Health Section of APHA, doing a presentation on a multi-site mental health courts project we are heading, and perusing the full program, I was further convinced that a public health approach to the issues at the interface of the mental health, substance abuse and criminal justice systems is the most fruitful perspective to take.
When you come down to it, whether it is diversion, reentry, correctional treatment, or prevention, the core reason any of this is worthwhile is to make the community a better place for everyone to have a healthy life. For me, that is what public health really comes down to. The array of interventions that are discussed for justice involved persons with behavioral health issues all ultimately target a better life for that person, a healthier, safer and more productive community, and a better working environment for all of the behavioral health and criminal justice professionals charged with their detention, safety, and health. What’s in it for everyone is a healthier life.
This may seem a bit Pollyannaish, but it is not. There is something in these endeavors for everyone, not just the person diverted, the person on suicide watch in the jail, or the person leaving state prison on parole. The efforts are for the public’s health. It does not take a sophisticated analysis defining the components of a public health approach. It merely takes an awareness of how everyone can benefit when the right array of services are welcoming and accessible for justice involved persons in contact with the justice system.
One place to see these ideas in action would be the November, 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association in Boston.