Local and county law enforcement officials recently gathered at the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office Training Academy to discuss efforts to enhance data collection and utilization in efforts to decrease incarceration rates for those suffering from mental health and substance use disorders.
The meeting, hosted by Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian, included representatives of the 21 Middlesex County police departments who joined the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office in signing on to the White House-led Data-Driven Justice (DDJ) Initiative earlier this fall. The initiative, which is being taken over by the National Association of Counties (NACo), focuses on breaking the cycle of incarceration for those suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. Nationwide, 64 percent of people in local jails suffer from mental illness, while 68 percent have a substance use disorder.
“These are not issues we can arrest or incarcerate our way out of,” said Sheriff Koutoujian. “Law enforcement agencies in Middlesex County are working hard to divert appropriate individuals away from the justice system and towards treatment. Through this initiative we hope to better utilize not just law enforcement data, but also health care data, to enhance those efforts and create better outcomes for those suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders.”
Joining law enforcement for the meeting were Lynn Overmann and Kelly Jin from the White House of Office of Science and Technology Policy, both of whom will be joining the Arnold Foundation, where they will continue work on the initiative. Cambridge Police Lieutenant Dan Wagner, as well as representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers also made presentations to the group.
“As we have built the Data-Driven Justice Initiative over the last year, we have seen how critical law enforcement leadership is to tackling the hard challenge of addressing the needs of people with mental illness,” said Overmann. “We are thrilled to be working closely with Sheriff Koutoujian, the Chiefs of 21 police departments, as well as key health care partners. We believe that Middlesex County could well become a national model for local, county, and state collaboration.