Psychiatric Leadership Group (PLG) for Criminal Justice

Researchers estimate that nearly 17% of people admitted to jail have serious mental disorders—rates three times higher for men and five times higher for women than in the general population. Nearly 70% of adults in jails have a substance use disorder, and almost three-quarters of jail inmates with serious mental illnesses (72%) have co-occurring substance use disorders. The impact of this overrepresentation is not only extremely detrimental to the inmates who need and deserve treatment for their recovery, but it also causes extra stress on their families, the criminal justice system itself, public safety, and government spending. 

The substantial number of individuals who are served by the behavioral health system that are also involved in the criminal justice system have complex needs that cannot be adequately resolved by one system alone, prompting the need for effective partnership and collaboration between the two systems. Treatment providers and criminal justice professionals must work together to keep these individuals out of the criminal justice system and advance their recovery. 
Recognized in their respective fields as leaders, psychiatrists and judges are natural candidates to identify and implement cross-systems strategies to reduce the overrepresentation of persons with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system, and inspire their colleagues to follow suit. To capitalize on these strengths, the APA Foundation has partnered with the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG Justice Center)—a national nonprofit organization focused on criminal justice that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government—to foster collaboration and leadership among psychiatrists and judges committed to addressing this issue. 


The JLI was initiated in 2004 to bring judges from all levels of state judiciaries together to improve judicial understanding of, and responses to, individuals with mental illnesses in our nation's courts. In 2012, the JLI expanded its focus to include justice-involved individuals with behavioral health issues, and the organization is now the Judges’ Leadership Initiative for Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health. The JLI's mission is to stimulate, support, and enhance efforts by judges to take leadership roles to improve judicial, community, and systemic responses to justice-involved people with behavioral health needs. 


As the JLI created a forum for judges to convene, the PLG was formed to provide an opportunity for psychiatric leaders to come together and advise judges on behavioral health issues that they may confront in the courtroom. Members are knowledgeable about service and treatment interventions that have been associated with both reductions in impairments and contact with the criminal justice system. They provide mentorship and advice to other psychiatrists seeking guidance on how best to address the needs of people involved in the criminal justice system. 



From 2010 to the present, the Foundation has worked with the CSG Justice Center to support the work of the PLG and JLI. The groups have worked together to develop a training module for judges on mental disorders in the courtroom. The module has been presented to enthusiastic audiences across the country. Beginning in 2013, the training was supplemented with video case studies and a discussion guide for interactive skill building. 

The PLG and JLI also created a two-page bench card to help judges recognize the signs of possible mental disorders among individuals in the courtroom and to respond sensitively and productively.


The training module for judges, "Judicial Work at the Interface of Mental Health and Criminal Justice" is now accepting applications from judges who see criminal cases who wish to take the four-hour interactive training. Learn more


The work of the JLI and PLG is currently supported through charitable contributions from Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies and Eli Lilly and Company.

If you, or someone you know is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, click here for a list of resources.