Data Analytics Reduces Incarceration

September 16, 2022 by Meredith Trimble

Data Analytics Reduces Incarceration

Data Analytics Reduces Incarceration

About two million times a year, people with serious mental illnesses are admitted to jails across the United States, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI also reports that the cost of jailing people with mental illness is high; these inmates often have longer jail stays and higher recidivism rates. This challenge has broad impact, affecting individuals, families, communities, and the local agencies involved.

The innovative leaders in Fulton County, Georgia, took steps to face this problem head on, ensuring that their criminal justice system would not be a fallback for managing mental illness in the community. “Our goal has always been reducing the population of people going to jail that do not need to be there and redirecting them to mental health services and resources,” noted Mike Rowicki, Fulton County’s director of strategic planning and performance management.

In order to reduce recidivism and homelessness, increase access to mental health services, and lower the incarceration rate, Rowicki’s team leveraged technology to integrate data from criminal justice agencies, courts, and behavioral health systems.

Connecting and Sharing County Data

As part of its effort, the county joined the nationwide Stepping Up initiative, which seeks to reduce the number of individuals with mental illnesses in jails. Participation in the initiative required the county to bring together disparate data from the agencies and departments noted above. “Everyone was working with different systems, with different data collection and reporting methods,” explained Rowicki. “There was no consistency and no sharing of data in a centralized way.”

To successfully connect and share information, the county implemented a data-sharing platform based on its enterprise data platform already in use. The sharing solution uses Amazon Kinesis Data Streams to store and ingest streaming data from different agency systems, including pre-arrest, housing, court collaboration, homelessness, medical treatment, and re-entry information.

Each agency using the solution, from county judges to nonprofit leaders to agency administrators, can access a custom dashboard that maintains security and privacy by masking data on a permissions basis. Users can query datasets containing information on past behavioral health-related engagements, offering insights into the most recent touchpoint a client had with a behavioral health professional.

Moving the Needle on Recidivism and Homelessness

This consolidated data offers law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, jail staff, and other personnel deeper insights into each aspect of a patient’s care. For example, Fulton County administrators looked carefully at the 100 people arrested most frequently in the county and discovered many of them had persistent mental health issues have been seen by multiple healthcare providers. “We’re trying to focus on getting these people connected with a single provider to stabilize them,” said Rowicki. “Once that happens, if the person goes back into the community and something happens again, we can get them back to the last provider they worked with and keep working on their treatment plan. We hope this will reduce the recidivism rate for some of these individuals.”

The county also hopes to reduce homelessness by using the technology solution to analyze data from three homeless shelters across the county. “We can find out if it’s mental illness, unstable housing, or some other reason for a person being homeless, and then identify the resources we have to help,” explained Rowicki.

Alternatives to Incarceration

Thanks to the technology involved, county judges now have information about why people are being detained, which can help divert people to mental health treatment centers instead of incarcerating them. Similarly, police officers can use the data to decide whether to transport someone to jail or instead connect them with a behavioral healthcare provider. Healthcare providers can then use the data to simplify the intake process and make it more efficient. This leads to appropriate, effective treatment, as opposed to continued cycling through the criminal justice system.

Scaling to Support Additional Systems

Those involved understand the effort described above uses only a fraction of the county’s available data. “We can quickly accommodate 50 or more additional groups or agencies that want to join,” noted Rowicki. Quick scaling will allow patient personal health information to be added in the future, for example.

Continuing to reduce incarceration will also lead to millions of dollars in savings for the county. “While we’re working toward that goal,” said Rowicki, “we will continue to work with our vulnerable population to make sure they have access to the services they need so they can be productive citizens in our community.”

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