Life is full of transitions, some positive and some challenging. Transitions of care from incarceration to community living; from inmate to citizen; from being an offender to living a law abiding life; these are some of the most challenging transitions faced by anyone. Furthermore, when the person making this transition has an intellectual disability or a serious mental illness, the challenges are multiplied greatly.
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The individual is caught in a virtual “no man’s land” between the criminal justice and human services systems. Norval Morris, a well-known law professor and criminal justice system reformer, is quoted as having said “when you combine the criminal justice and human services systems you get the best of neither and the worst of both”. This is very often the situation when a person with developmental or mental health needs is preparing to transition from a correctional facility (where they have been housed and cared for in a highly structured and controlled manner) into a structured and loosely defined system of mental health care.
Criminal Justice and Human Services: The Odd Couple
It is undeniable that the human services and criminal justice systems are inherently different and that the two systems do not typically mix well together. They are based on fundamentally different principles, operate on very dissimilar ideologies and have rules and regulations that are often conflicting, stifling interagency communication. Also, both the criminal justice and human services systems are facing tremendous challenges with increasing demands and shrinking resources in an era of unprecedented regulation and intense oversight.
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About the Author
John Finn received a Bachelor of Science Degree in special education and a Master of Science degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Syracuse University. He has worked in several capacities in various human services settings including direct care, as a community residence manager, and program coordinator. For 32 years he served as the Director of Forensic Services for the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. In this capacity he oversaw the design, developmental, and operation of specialized secure, intensive treatment programs. For several years he was the Director of a free standing, secure, intensive residential treatment facility, certified as an ICF/MR. Mr. Finn retired from state service in 2010 and now serves as President of Forensic Specialists, offering full service consultations, expert evaluations, specialized training and systems transformation assistance for both the human services and criminal justice systems.