Jurisdictions around the country have implemented rapid response strategies to the COVID-19 pandemic, including diverting or releasing some individuals from jails and prisons, while maintaining public safety. Special and specific considerations are needed when considering “release to what?” during this time for populations living with complex mental health needs, substance use disorders, and medical and housing vulnerabilities.

Release to What? Behavioral Health-Based Strategies to Address COVID-19by Policy Research, Inc.’s Regina Huerter, provides a series of recommendations for jails and prisons releasing individuals with complex mental health needs, substance use disorders, and medical and housing vulnerabilities to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The recommendations discussed in this brief are organized across the Sequential Intercept Model, a conceptual model to inform community-based responses to the involvement of people with mental and substance use disorders in the criminal justice system. Recommendations provided in this publication range from providing consistent support, including child care, to essential employees to encouraging virtual supervision, monitoring, and education to individuals on probation and parole.

Please note that the recommendations are not intended to replace national, state, or local guidance or guidance from health, public health, homeless, or criminal justice systems. All recommendations assume that general COVID-19 prevention measures are in place and that management practices are being followed, including client screening and testing, and appropriate care is being provided to prevent the spread of the disease or manage those who are asymptomatic or symptomatic.