SAMHSA’S GAINS Center Announces Criminal Justice Communities of Practice

SAMHSA’s GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation, operated by Policy Research Associates, Inc., and known nationally for its work regarding people with behavioral health needs involved in the criminal justice system, is convening four topical Communities of Practice to work intensively with select communities on the following topics:

  • Competence to Stand Trial/Competence Restoration
  • Equity and Inclusion in Adult Drug Courts
  • Using the Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) to Guide Medication-assisted Treatment Implementation in Adult Drug Courts
  • Improving Recovery Support Services for People with Substance Use Disorders Returning from Jail or Prison

About the Criminal Justice Communities of Practice

Each Community of Practice (CoP) will bring together selected teams for an intensive learning, strategic planning, and implementation process to address local issues and needs within their topic area. Each CoP will engage subject-matter experts and will facilitate peer-to-peer learning and information sharing. A unique blend of onsite and virtual methods will offer each team an intimate and collaborative environment in which to learn and complete its work while providing a virtual forum to share with other communities and receive an array of technical assistance from subject-matter experts across the country. The overarching objectives for this opportunity include:

  • Enhancing collective knowledge of key issues and familiarity with the topic
  • Understanding promising, best, and evidence-based practices to address the topic and related issues
  • Developing strategic plans that focus on the issue, including defining assignments, deadlines, and measurable outcomes to be reported
  • Increasing knowledge about the challenges and lessons learned in implementing strategies through peer-to-peer sharing

Application and Selection Process

  • Solicitations for each CoP topic area will be released on December 9, 2019
  • Applications will be due January 24, 2020
  • General requirements:
    • Narrative (up to five pages)
    • Expectations/guidelines will differ by CoP topic
    • List of key stakeholders who will participate in the team
    • Letters of support or commitment from key partners
    • Availability on the virtual meeting date


Selected communities (up to six per topic area) will be notified on or about February 7, 2020.

Available CoPs

Competence to Stand Trial/Competence Restoration

Every day, many defendants across the nation await competence evaluations, often languishing in jails until a forensic inpatient bed is available and receiving limited mental health treatment. There is general consensus from state policymakers and local and state behavioral health and criminal justice systems that reform is needed. The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) reports that nearly all states indicate that their current system cannot adequately handle the influx of competence to stand trial defendants with available resources.[1] Consequently, local forensic treatment systems and jails are significantly overburdened. Any solution must require state and local collaboration.

This CoP will identify the most common factors contributing to the system stressors associated with the competence to stand trial/competency restoration process. The states will develop strategic plans to address problems specific to their jurisdiction and will identify the methods for measuring outcomes. Each state participating in the Community of Practice will identify and gain cooperation from 1-3 local communities in which to pilot the recommended changes.

The Competence to Stand Trial/Competence Restoration Community of Practice, now in its second year, is designed for state applicants; and will focus on legal, clinical, and systemic issues including the increased demand for competence evaluations, evidence-based screening and assessment measures, waitlists for competence restoration program beds, best practices for Competence restoration programs, building collaborations between state and local agencies, and other relevant issues.

Download the Competence to Stand Trial/Competence Restoration application

Equity and Inclusion in Adult Drug Courts

Racial and ethnic disparities persist in many local and state criminal justice systems despite decades of reform efforts. These disparities exist across the criminal justice continuum, as the over-representation of people of color is documented in law enforcement contacts, jail populations, pretrial detention, and prisons. Studies also show that people of color in some areas are more likely to be sentenced to prison than referred to treatment courts; in other areas, they are more likely to be referred to treatment court than diverted to community-based treatment services without criminal justice oversight. People of color also face barriers to accessing community-based mental health and substance use treatment, as well as treatment services that resonate with their perspectives, cultures, and values. Communities implementing diversion programs often miss the opportunity to reduce disparities by failing to incorporate specific strategies and action steps that ensure equitable access and decision-making for people considered for diversion.

This CoP will focus on creating and implementing strategies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in access to adult drug court programs. This CoP is designed to support jurisdictions through a process that moves selected programs from recognizing disparities that exist to implementing practice changes around critical access, service-delivery, or decision-making points that are driving the disparate access. This CoP will challenge participating adult drug courts to begin implementing inclusive and informed strategies that actively address and reduce disparities. Sites will be supported by expertise from both GAINS Center staff and consultants, as well as from the National Drug Court Institute (NDCI). A focus of this Community of Practice will be the implementation of the Equity and Inclusion: Equivalent Access Assessment and Toolkit (NDCI, 2019) in each participating adult drug court. Applicants seeking to participate in this opportunity must focus efforts on a particular adult drug court program.

Download the Equity and Inclusion in Adult Drug Courts application

Using the SIM to Guide Medication-assisted Treatment Implementation in Adult Drug Courts

Fatal drug overdoses are rising at an alarming rate across the United States, due primarily to opioid involvement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid-related deaths increased by nearly 600% in the two-decade period ending in 2017, when more than 47,000 persons died as a result of opioid overdoses. The research literature confirms that, compared to the general population, persons with behavioral health needs are higher healthcare utilizers, experience disproportionately higher rates of illness and premature death, and are at higher risk for substance use disorders and justice system involvement.

This CoP will identify and propose remedies for barriers to the implementation of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), focusing on Intercepts 2-4 of the SIM and community treatment resources for participating communities. Sites will develop strategic plans to enhance existent approaches for the implementation of MAT in their adult drug court, promote the expansion of MAT-focused policies and procedures at other criminal justice system intercept points, and identify methods for measuring system outcomes. Each selected site in the CoP will have the opportunity to work in collaboration with subject-matter experts and teams in up to five other sites to share local strategies and solicit feedback.

Download the Using the SIM to Guide MAT Implementation in Adult Drug Courts application

Improving Recovery Support Services for People with Substance Use Disorders Returning from Jail or Prison

More than half of people incarcerated in state prisons and two-thirds of people sentenced to jail have substance use disorders. For programs that provide services and supervision to people with substance use disorders returning to the community following terms of incarceration, obtaining housing and securing employment presents a major challenge. People with substance use disorders with criminal histories face barriers to housing and employment. Homelessness and residential instability make it difficult for people recently released from jail prison to focus on their treatment and recovery from substance use disorders, maintain sobriety, obtain and retain employment, and comply with program and supervision mandates.

The goal of this Community of Practice is to improve strategies related to housing and employment for existing reentry programs that serve adults with substance use disorders returning from jail or prison. Through participation in this CoP, reentry programs will be expected to work with current and new stakeholders, including community corrections/community supervision, substance use treatment providers, housing agency director(s)/local public housing authority director, employment training programs and services, peer-based recovery support services, and local or state correctional representatives. In addition, reentry programs will be expected to bring in representatives responsible for correctional programming (e.g., cognitive-behavioral interventions targeted at criminal thinking and behavior). The goal of the Improving Recovery Support Services for People with Substance Use Disorders Returning from Jail or Prison Community of Practice is to advance policies and practices around housing approaches, employment skills and services, and peer-based recovery services to support individuals returning from jails and prisons in their recovery from substance use disorders.

Download the Recovery Support Services for People with Substance Use Disorders Returning from Jail or Prison application

[1] Wik, A., Hollen, V., & Fisher, W.H.  (2017). Forensic Patients in State Psychiatric Hospitals: 1999-2016. Alexandria, VA: NASHMHPD.

Criminal justice, GAINS

The views expressed by the blog post author are their own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Policy Research Associates, Inc.

One comment on “SAMHSA’S GAINS Center Announces Criminal Justice Communities of Practice

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