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New Corrections Network Created

by Steve Allen, ACMHA Chair, Director of Behavior Health Services, Minnesota Department of Corrections

I am pleased to formally announce the emergence of a new corrections organization: the Association of Corrections Mental Health Administrators (Headshot2 copy_SteveAllenACMHA).  ACMHA has been created with strong support from the National Institute of Corrections (NIC).  Our mission is to " define, support, and advance the field of correctional mental health services through research, training and dissemination of knowledge concerning evidenced-based, innovative, and best practices in the field." 

Bringing together the directors of corrections mental health services across the country is a very good idea.  Over the past two decades, there has been an increasing recognition of the prevalence and severity of mental illness within our corrections systems as well as the challenges of adequately and effectively addressing the needs of this population.  While mental illness is rarely the direct cause of criminal behavior, it can and does significantly affect the course of an offender's involvement in the legal system.  Mentally ill offenders have poorer intuitional adjustment, tend to stay longer in prison, and have poorer outcomes during community supervision. We have an obligation to provide mental health services for incarcerated individuals as part of our commitment to provide general health care.  But we also have come to understand that providing effective mental health services increases the likelihood that offenders will succeed in meeting their responsibilities both inside and outside the walls of our institutions.  In the process, our prisons and communities become safer.  Finally, because the strong interconnections between mental illness and substance abuse have become clear, we need to implement programs that effectively address both substance abuse relapse and criminal recidivism. 

Although these issues span all of our populations and systems, those of us responsible for the direction and administration of corrections mental health services have too often worked to address them in isolation.  In so doing, we have missed valuable opportunities to build on each other's successes, to learn from each other's mistakes, and to work together to further the field of corrections mental health. 

There had been earlier efforts to create a network of corrections mental health administrators.  In 2000, NIC invited national representatives to Washington, D.C.  There was strong interest among this group to develop an ongoing organization, but the effort could not be sustained at the time.  The Association of State Corrections Administrators (ASCA) brought together the Midwest mental health directors in 2007 for its regional meeting.  With ASCA's support, that group continued meeting and dialoging on relevant issues and, as word got out, the group began growing beyond the Midwest.  Late in 2009, NIC gathered a small steering committee of mental health directors for the purpose of establishing a national network, and the efforts of this group lead to our inaugural annual meeting in May 2010 and the formal creation of ACMHA. 

To further our goals, ACMHA has formed several topical workgroups focused on issues of interest and concern among our membership.  There are currently workgroups on the following topics:

  • Suicide Prevention
  • Managing Self-Harm
  • Ethical and Legal issues
  • Mentally Ill Offenders in Segregation
  • Diagnostics
  • Research
  • Treatment Programs

We are finalizing preparations for our third annual meeting, which is to be held in May 2012.  Key topics for the meeting will include a review of the implications of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on our systems of care, effective release and reintegration planning with mentally ill offenders, and presentations by our current workgroups. 

In terms of membership requirements, ACMHA members must be government employees.  Each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Bureau of Prisons are permitted one member and each jurisdiction is responsible for selecting its own representative. We are also exploring the inclusion of representatives from the six largest jail networks. 

ACMHA is envisioned as a collaborative organization. As we gain firmer footing, we will be exploring opportunities to engage in dialog with organizations that share our goals and to offer support to them as well. 

NIC currently provides ACMHA with a private forum and a public website where information on our ongoing activities can be found.  Look for additional updates on ACMHA in this publication and on our website (  If you have questions, please contact me ( or Anita Pollard (

Posted Fri, Mar 2 2012 12:06 PM by Tracey Vessels


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