Revamping Care for Patients Caught in Justice System
New Office of Forensic Services in Washington is rethinking how to properly guide treatment to get criminal suspects care and to help them return to the community.

By Chris Adams

Dr. Nicole Johnson oversees a new Office of Forensic Services in Washington, D.C., and is in the midst of rethinking how the criminal justice and mental health systems can better help people caught up in both.

The office is part of the District of Columbia’s Department of Behavioral Health, which also oversees Saint Elizabeths Hospital, Washington’s public psychiatric facility that dates to 1855. Until late 2016, the facility was best known for housing John Hinckley Jr., who in 1981 tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.

National Press Foundation fellows toured the hospital. Fellows saw both the patient-care units and the collection of historic documents and artifacts related to the treatment of mental illness – including an extensive collection of diseased brains. (For details on Saint Elizabeths and its patient care admissions, discharges, treatment options and other data, see the facility’s monthly performance reports.)

Johnson led fellows in a Q&A on her office’s efforts to develop and operate programs for criminal suspects who need mental health care. That includes new diversion programs for people taken into police custody.

She also oversees patients who are being evaluated for their competency to stand trial; re-entry programs for people moving from the criminal justice system back to the community; and the monitoring of patients who have been declared not guilty by reason of insanity.

Other resources for journalists covering the intersection of mental health and criminal justice: the Crisis Intervention Officer Program report, which documents a program developed by the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Behavioral Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

This program is funded by The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies. NPF is solely responsible for the content.

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