In order to improve the delivery of mental health services to Westchester County’s prison population, the Department of Information Technology (DoIT) developed an innovative Inmate Mental Health Data Exchange system.  The web-based system now serves as a vital tool for Department of Correction (DOC) staff and the Department of Community Mental Health (DCMH) as they assess the health of Westchester’s prison population and deliver mental health and housing services both during and after incarceration. 

The system was developed entirely in-house by DoIT staff and uses Web services to facilitate the two-way exchange of data as well as a combination of e-mail and a web-based status boards to automatically alert appropriate staff members when a prisoner has a history of mental health issues.  DOC health care professionals receive information regarding the inmate’s diagnosis, medications, current assessments and disorders.  Through the system DCMH is also alerted to the fact that the individual is now incarcerated and if known, the estimated length of time. DCMH is also notified 30 days prior to (for planned discharges) an inmate’s release, and seven days after an inmate’s actual release to allow for transition services to be rendered upon reentry to the community. 

Community Benefits
The system was developed to improve the delivery of mental health services to those people in the community who need it most.  Prior to the development of this system, it was easier for individuals with mental health conditions entering the County Jail to slip through the cracks and not receive the services they required.  Upon intake, inmates undergo a comprehensive assessment, which includes several questions related to the person’s mental health history.  Prior to this system, CHS professionals had no systematic way of verifying the information they were verbally receiving from inmates regarding their mental health histories.  As a result, inmates who neglected to inform CHS staff of their conditions were not always provided optimal housing conditions or mental health services for the duration of their stay in the prison and upon release into their respective communities.                    

Technology Used
Data is exchanged via web services (in XML Format) between two disparate systems (databases are Microsoft Access and Oracle).  There is a Java J2EE front end for managing the information and processing acknowledgements.  E-mail alerts and reminders are used to encourage the timely acknowledgement of received alerts. This has been a positive data sharing effort with both parties willing to embrace the initial challenge of defining what information was appropriate to share and how best to exchange and present the information to those who require it.

How is the system innovative & replicable to other communities?
The means in which the information is exchanged is innovative.  Past practices relied on manual intervention by the stakeholders (which was not instantaneous) and to some extent the ability of the individual to articulate their histories. The technology certainly is adaptable to other organizations.  A specific implementation would need to be customized for the organizations data sources and environment.