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Feb 28

Mental Health Challenges in Criminal Justice System

Posted to Community Services News on February 28, 2020 at 12:17 PM by Janet Lo

2020-02-OJI - BHUOffice of Justice Initiatives, Behavioral Health Unit

Mental Health Challenges in the Criminal Justice System: The Need for Shelby County’s Behavioral Health Unit 

According to a Mental Health America 2015 report, 1.2 million people with mental illnesses sit in jail and prison every year. That is more than half of all Americans in jail or prison.  

Let that sink in. Half of all Americans in prison have a mental illness. 

Tennessee unfortunately ranks within the top ten states with the least access to mental health care. Shelby County took action in January 2016 to ensure that defendants in the criminal justice system, that have been identified as having a mental illness, have options for care and treatment that will ultimately reduce their risk of future incarceration.  

Qualifying defendants suffering from mental illness can go on probation, in lieu of incarceration, and have the option to have their charges dropped in exchange for completing a year-long mental health treatment plan determined by Shelby County’s Mental Health Court.

Defendants must plead guilty to stay in the yearlong program, but once they complete it, their arrest records are expunged. The program includes mental and physical health care, help with alcohol and drug abuse, housing assistance and, if they are capable, employment assistance.

The need is great in Shelby County. The court's clients, most commonly charged with theft, have been arrested an average of 136 times, with records that go back 20 to 25 years, mostly based on "nuisance crimes" — shoplifting, public drunkenness, and crimes associated with drug use. The court calls them "frequent fliers," meaning they're in and out of jail 8 to 10 times per year.

Shelby County's mental health court is presided over by Judge Gerald Skahan. Its performance and the critical needs among an estimated 500 people in jail with a diagnosed mental illness persuaded officials to double the court’s current case load to 50 offenders since it began in 2016.  

If you know someone that is currently in jail awaiting trial, on probation, or in prison that has a mental health condition and needs help with seeking treatment or medication, please contact the Behavioral Health Unit team at 901-222-2043. 

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Feb 28

901 Legal Connect

Posted to Community Services News on February 28, 2020 at 12:00 PM by Janet Lo

901 Legal ConnectCommunity Partner

901 Legal Connect: Using Tech Innovation to Increase Free Legal Help

On February 6, the Memphis Bar Foundation launched as the legal community’s latest initiative to improve the way that underserved populations access vital legal services.  901 Legal Connect is a mobile responsive web-application that connects underserved residents in the City of Memphis, Shelby County, and the surrounding counties to free or low-cost legal service providers. The Memphis Bar Foundation is a part of a growing number of organizations that has employed tech-innovation to build sustainable programs that minimize some of the barriers to justice.  Also, the Foundation is the first bar organization in the state of Tennessee to develop a web-based, applicant intake portal. 

As a one-stop portal, 901 Legal Connect serves as a pre-screening tool that connects appropriate applicants with the correct legal service provider on the first try.  901 Legal Connect informs applicants in as little as 20 minutes if they meet the minimum qualifications for legal assistance. Then, they will be connected with the appropriate legal service provider who will complete the intake process to determine final eligibility.   

This new one-stop approach creates a win-win for both applicants and legal service providers. Now, applicants will only complete one initial screening regarding their eligibility for legal assistance instead of contacting multiple organizations to find out if they qualify for help.  As a result, CLC and MALS will receive only qualified applications, which increases their capacity to serve more underserved residents who would not otherwise have access to legal services. To learn more about 901 Legal Connect, visit

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Dec 23

Helping Families through Social Skills Classes

Posted to Community Services News on December 23, 2019 at 11:27 AM by Janet Lo

young aa couple computer

Office of Justice Initiatives - Pretrial Services
Helping Families through Social Skills Classes

Family values and healthy social skills are often at the core of positive and safe relationships. The Programs Unit of Pretrial Services helps those previously incarcerated to improve their social skills to have healthier relationships and prevent future offenses. Pretrial Services offers programs such as Bringing Peace to Relationships, Batterers Intervention Program, Anger Management, Parenting, and 24:7 Dad.  In these programs, clients are allowed to share personal experiences of their own, listen to group members, and follow an evidence-based curriculum aimed at improving the well-being of the entire family and community. 

Each program has unique curricula that offer knowledge, skills, and cognitive behavior themes.  The Bringing Peace to Relationships and Batterers Intervention Program are domestic violence programs. Both programs focus on abusive relationships in the family and the power and control that one person can exert. The Anger Management Program allows one to identify their anger and how to cope with anger.  The Parenting Program gives direct guidelines on parenting skills and family values.  In addition to parenting, the 24:7 Dad program offers principles of parenting, directly to the father. 

Pretrial Services’ Programs Unit is designed to help bring balance to one’s self, others and the community by fostering a positive family. For more information, contact 901-222-4000 or visit

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