Press Release

Press Release Behavioral Health Initiative Enhances Connection to Community-Based Supports for Individuals Involved with the Criminal Justice System

For immediate release:
  • Executive Office of Health and Human Services
  • MassHealth
  • Executive Office of the Trial Court
  • Massachusetts Department of Correction
  • Massachusetts Probation Service

Media Contact for Behavioral Health Initiative Enhances Connection to Community-Based Supports for Individuals Involved with the Criminal Justice System

Elissa Snook, Media Relations Manager

BostonThe Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and members of law enforcement are partnering to strengthen treatment for justice-involved individuals with behavioral health needs re-entering the community. As part of a MassHealth-funded initiative developed together with law enforcement, individuals with behavioral health disorders, substance use disorders, or co-occurring illnesses that are currently in jail or prison, or on parole or probation will be provided one-on-one support and connected to services to ensure a smooth transition back into the community.

MassHealth currently provides health insurance coverage to approximately 90% of individuals leaving the correctional system. The launch of the initiative follows a more than two-year long collaborative effort by stakeholders including EOHHS, the Trial Court, the Department of Correction (DOC), the Massachusetts Parole Board and the Middlesex and Worcester County Sheriff’s Offices to identify practices and resources that will improve the delivery of behavioral healthcare to men and women returning to the community post-incarceration. The initiative is also being supported by the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

EOHHS’ justice partners will be responsible for identifying and referring eligible individuals to two nonprofit behavioral health providers, Advocates, Inc. of Framingham and Open Sky Community Services of Worcester. Staff from both organizations will conduct in-person visits with inmates at correctional facilities or meet individuals at probation and parole offices to develop individualized treatment plans and provide intensive case management. Supports will include connecting individuals to appointments with medical and behavioral health providers, accessing social services and benefits, as well as obtaining stable housing post release. Enrollment will begin in August 2019 and initially launch in two counties, Middlesex and Worcester, with the goal to expand statewide in 2021.

Eligible individuals must:

  • have a diagnosis of substance use disorder, serious behavioral health disorder or co-occurring illness;
  • be at high risk for admission to an inpatient psychiatric hospital or other 24/7 facilities including  residential rehabilitation or detoxification;
  • be at high risk for recidivism (as determined by a validated justice system assessment tool);
  • justice involved (being released from incarceration or detention, or receiving probation or parole supervision); and
  • returning to or living in Middlesex or Worcester counties. 

While the opioid-related overdose death rate in Massachusetts continues to decline, some populations are at higher risk of dying from an overdose than others. The state’s Chapter 55 report found that compared to the rest of the adult population, the opioid-related overdose death rate is 120 times higher for persons released from Massachusetts prisons and jails, and six times higher for persons diagnosed with a serious mental illness. 

“By providing more timely access to medical and behavioral health treatment and social supports to high-risk individuals, we can promote their successful transition back into our communities, improve their health, and reduce recidivism,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.  “Addictions and behavioral health disorders must both be addressed. The Commonwealth has and will continue to make significant investments to address the opioid crisis and to improve access to behavioral health treatment.  To date, the Commonwealth has invested $1.9 billion in new funding to address the behavioral health needs of individuals throughout Massachusetts.” 

“MassHealth will continue to strengthen the coverage of services and care coordination available to all of our members with mental health and addiction treatment needs, including for individuals with criminal justice involvement,” said Assistant Secretary for MassHealth Dan Tsai. 

"This represents a terrific example of all justice partners working together to improve outcomes for justice-involved individuals," said Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey. "The coordination of care and resources not only limits deeper involvement with the justice system but also helps address underlying behavioral health needs." 

“The DOC recognizes that the Behavioral Health/Justice Involved (BH-JI) pilot is not only a much needed initiative, but a critical bridge to ensuring a continuity of medical, substance use, and mental health care,” said Department of Correction Commissioner Carol Mici. “The BH-JI model has the potential to create statewide treatment standards for criminal justice involved populations through a comprehensive reentry collaboration of services and service providers, most importantly beginning prior to the individual’s release and, as a result, ensuring a seamless continuation of services in the community.”


“Supporting post-release success is part of the Parole Board’s core mission,” said Parole Board Chair Gloriann Moroney. “This forward-looking initiative will help address some of the most common factors contributing to recidivism, and it will lead to better outcomes for our returning populations, their neighborhoods and communities, and the Commonwealth at large.  We’re excited and grateful to be a part of it.” 

“We are excited to partner with EOHHS, MassHealth and Accountable Care Organizations to better meet the care coordination challenges for our population. The capacity to bring this innovative care management approach to complex medical and behavior health cases combines effective service delivery with probation supervision.  It is a combination that leads to enhanced public safety and more effective care and treatment in a more cost effective manner.  This partnership will provide a model for much needed coordinated medical and behavioral health care and that will help change the trajectory of this population," said Edward J. Dolan, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Probation Service 

“At a time when nearly half of those entering the custody of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office report a history of mental illness, laying the path to long-term success for these individuals requires greater collaboration with our public health partners.  We are grateful for the opportunity to have helped shape this groundbreaking reentry initiative,” said Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian.  “This initiative is a major step in that direction and I thank the Baker Administration, Secretary Sudders and MassHealth for walking that path with us.” 

“Ensuring that incarcerated individuals have a successful transition back into our communities has always been a priority to our Department.  We are thankful to be part of this new project, which we feel will greatly enhance the opportunity for post-release success,” said Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis. “I would like to thank the Baker- Polito Administration for taking on these very important initiatives.”  

The initiative complements the Baker-Polito Administrations broader, ongoing efforts to create a behavioral health system in Massachusetts. Since 2015, the Administration has prioritized the importance of improving access to behavioral health services across the spectrum of treatment for mental illness, addictions and co-occurring illnesses. In addition to significant policy changes, between FY16 and FY22, more than $1.9 billion will have been invested to improve availability of and access to behavioral health treatment and supports. Last month, EOHHS announced that it was initiating an intensive effort to redesign the front door of behavioral health. This summer, the public, consumers and the healthcare community are invited to attend listening sessions and inform the design of creating a behavioral health ambulatory treatment system in the Commonwealth.


Media Contact for Behavioral Health Initiative Enhances Connection to Community-Based Supports for Individuals Involved with the Criminal Justice System

Executive Office of Health and Human Services 

The Executive Office of Health and Human Services is the largest secretariat in state government and is comprised of 12 agencies, in addition to 2 soldiers’ homes and the MassHealth program. Our efforts are focused on the health, resilience, and independence of the one in four residents of the Commonwealth we serve. Our public health programs touch every community in the Commonwealth.


MassHealth is the name of Massachusetts' Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Executive Office of the Trial Court 

The Executive Office of the Trial Court facilitates communication and enables joint leadership of the Trial Court by the Chief Justice of the Trial Court and the Court Administrator.

Massachusetts Department of Correction 

The Department of Correction oversees the state prison system, managing inmates at 16 institutions across the state.

Massachusetts Probation Service 

MPS's main goal is to keep communities safe and to provide people on probation with the rehabilitative tools they need to live a productive and law-abiding life.