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UMD Researchers Bolster State Center for Behavioral Health and Public Safety


Ted Knight , 410-703-4685


Researchers from the Maryland Crime Research and Innovation Center (MCRIC) at the University of Maryland (UMD) have developed a strategic plan for the new Behavioral Health and Public Safety Center of Excellence, an initiative established by the Maryland General Assembly and launched by the Governor’s Office. The center will serve as a hub for the state to more efficiently and effectively promote access to behavioral health care and reduce engagement with the criminal justice system.

Leveraging expertise from UMD’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice (CCJS) and the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), the MCRIC team crafted a multi-year, state-wide, strategic plan outlining seven priority areas with goals and action steps that provide a roadmap to carry out the mission of the Center of Excellence.

Nearly half of incarcerated individuals have a history of a behavioral health disorder. In Maryland, a 2016 report found that nearly 40% of people in jail had a mental health disorder with 25% meeting the definition of serious mental illness, and more than two thirds (69%) had a substance use disorder. People with behavioral health needs often have recurrent and frequent interaction with public safety and healthcare systems and are more likely to experience police aggression during encounters with law enforcement.

The launch of the new Center aims to address this challenge head on by focusing efforts on the intersection of behavioral health and public safety. The Center was established within the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services (GOCPYVS) by the General Assembly in 2021 through Maryland Senate Bill 857 and was signed into law by then-Governor Larry Hogan on April 13, 2021. An early objective was the development of a strategic plan to increase treatment and reduce the detention of justice-involved individuals with behavioral health disorders. In July 2022, GOCPYVS selected MCRIC to lead the strategic planning effort for the Center of Excellence’s inaugural years.

The strategic plan developed by MCRIC incorporates insights from myriad interviews with Maryland-based public safety and behavioral health stakeholders, local and national research scholars, and experts from similarly motivated Centers, as well as recommendations from the 2020 and 2022 Annual State Sequential Intercept Model Summits. The priorities, goals, and action steps within the strategic plan equip the Center to carry out three critical roles: 1) technical assistance and training, 2) centralized communication, and 3) data, research, and evaluation.

"This plan is a critical step forward in our efforts to increase treatment and reduce the detention of individuals with mental and behavioral health disorders,” said James Rhoden, Assistant Director for the Center of Excellence. “Our Center of Excellence will help us connect the dots on how these individuals are represented in the criminal justice system and ensure that they receive the care and support they need."

“This is an exciting opportunity for the state and positions Maryland as a leader in the effort to address the behavioral health and public safety challenge that faces the nation,” said MCRIC Director and Associate Professor Bianca Bersani, the project lead. “The partnership with the University of Maryland demonstrates that the Center of Excellence is keen to leverage evidence-based information to drive actions and decision making. This is particularly important given the rapidly evolving understanding of best practices and emergent innovations to best meet the needs of justice-involved individuals with behavioral health disabilities.”

For more information about the Behavioral Health and Public Safety Center of Excellence, visit:

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