Criminal Justice and Mental Health

Assertively advancing the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) goal of reducing incarceration among individuals with mental health needs.

Criminal Justice

Law enforcement officers are often the first responders to mental health crises, and jails and prisons have become a default treatment system. Effective and proactive strategies can reduce the involvement of people with mental health challenges in the criminal justice system.

“California counties should work together collaboratively to bring major stakeholders to the table, to pool their budgets and resources to make sure they have adequate alternatives to criminal justice involvement for people with mental health needs.”

Bill Brown

Sheriff, Santa Barbara County & MHSOAC Member


The Commission seeks to use all its tools – research, policy development, financial incentives, and technical assistance – to help counties and their community partners build proactive and effective service systems that reduce criminal justice system involvement.

Staff is evaluating data to understand better the relationship between mental health services and justice involvement.

The Commission is working with state and county partners to implement its Together We Can: Reducing Criminal Justice Involvement for People with Mental Illness report.

The Commission’s Innovation Incubator supports counties working to develop data-informed, outcome-oriented, and collaborative service systems.


In 2016, the Commission initiated a policy project to develop statewide recommendations to prevent people with mental health challenges from becoming involved with criminal justice systems.

In November 2017, the Commission adopted its Together We Can report. In 2018 the Commission received authorization for $5 million in state funding over two fiscal years to develop the Innovation Incubator and work with counties to carry out the report’s recommendations.

Together We Can

MHSOAC Commissioner and Santa Barbara County Sheriff, Bill Brown, talks about the MHSOAC report on Criminal Justice.

Next Steps

  1. Sustaining System Change

    The Commission will evaluate the Incubator’s projects to surface statewide policy recommendations and encourage continuous improvement.

  2. Data Linkage

    The Commission continues to work to receive arrest data to examine the impact of state & county programs concerning criminal justice interventions.

Project Status Reports & Updates

Together We Can: Reducing Criminal Justice Involvement for People with Mental Illness

Together We Can - Reducing Criminal Justice Involvement for People with Mental Illness Cover

Reach out to learn more about the role of Criminal Justice