What is information sharing?

  • Information sharing is a way of improving collaboration between agencies by communicating information in carefully controlled ways. By sharing information, agencies can identify areas where they can collaborate to benefit the people they serve and eliminate redundancies in the work they do.
  • Because so many people who cycle through the justice system have a range of chronic health needs, improving interagency communication between justice and health systems can have far-reaching benefits. For example, if community health workers have access to information on the medications that medical staff working in prisons or jails prescribes for people with serious mental illness, they can help ensure that these people continue receiving essential medications when they return home. Read more about how Connecticut has used this approach to the benefit of formerly incarcerated people.
  • To learn more about other ways that information sharing can increase access to treatment, reduce crime, and save  money, check out our Resource Library.

Why share information?

  •  To Increase Access to Treatment:  People in prisons and jails have significant chronic medical, psychiatric, or substance-use problems, yet poor access to treatment in correctional facilities as well as in the community (Wilper et al. 2009). Better communication between corrections agencies and community-based treatment organizations can create new opportunities for health interventions and increase the likelihood that people with chronic health conditions will receive the help they need (Wang et al., 2012Morrissey et al., 2006).

How can it benefit my agency?

Public health agencies

  • Increasing access to healthcare and treatment in the community has the potential to improve health outcomes, reduce emergency room visits, lower risks of death, diminish health problems, enhance public safety, and reduce recidivism.
  • Providing public health agencies with access to release dates, prescriptions, and other essential information for people leaving justice facilities can increase the likelihood that people who are re-entering the community will continue to receive care and rely less on costly emergency healthcare services.

Criminal justice organizations

  • When criminal justice agencies have access to someone’s health information, they can quickly and efficiently identify whether the person has behavioral health needs that require treatment.
  • Law enforcement agencies, courts, probation and parole departments, jails, and prisons can use health information to make intelligent decisions about which people are eligible to participate in drug courts, receive alternatives to incarceration, and enter into specialized treatment programs.

 Benefits to justice and healthcare providers

Information Sharing Myths

Myth: Legal regulations such as HIPAA and 42 CFR, Part 2 prevent clinicians and public health agencies from sharing personal health information with criminal justice agencies.

Mythbuster: HIPAA and 42 CFR, Part 2 place limits on the type of personal health information that can be disclosed, when a patient’s consent is required, who is allowed to access the information, and how it is stored and transmitted. However, these regulations do not prevent sharing personal health information as long as the necessary protections are in place.  Moreover, both sets of regulations contain exceptions that allow justice and health professionals to share information in certain situations without an individual’s consent. For more information on HIPAA and 42 CFR, Part 2 check out our issue paper,  The Legal Landscape of Justice and Health Information SharingModule 3 of our Toolkit, and our FAQs on HIPAA and 42 CFR, Part 2.

Myth: I come from a small jurisdiction and we don’t have access to the data systems or technology needed to conduct information sharing.

Mythbuster: Gone are the days when it was necessary to purchase specialized software to facilitate interoperability–the ability for data systems and organizations to work together. There are several web-based options for storing and sharing data electronically that build on agencies’ existing technology infrastructure. For example, technology expert Paul Wormeli from the Integrated Justice Information Systems (IJIS) Institute recommends that jurisdictions with limited capacity to build data systems and develop interoperability use Cloud Computing, which stores information on remote servers that can be accessed over the internet. Alternatively, jurisdictions may want to consider the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), which can be downloaded for free from www.NIEM.gov. For more information on the use of technology to support information sharing see Module 4 of our Toolkit, our FAQ on Health Information Technology and the Criminal Justice System, or an interview with Paul Wormeli of the IJIS Institute.

Myth: Information sharing is too expensive and requires too much staff time.

Mythbuster: With increasing access to low-cost and/or open-source data systems, jurisdictions can build interoperability at a low cost. There are also financial incentives in the HITECH Act for eligible correctional healthcare providers to adopt, implement, or update electronic health records that can offset some of the cost of initial investments in health information technology. Furthermore, while there will usually be some initial investment of resources and staff-time required, once the initiative is running smoothly, both health and justice agencies can realize significant cost and staff-time savings. Information sharing can minimize unnecessary duplication of services, decrease the use of incarceration for individuals who could be served more appropriately outside of the justice system, and reduce rates of recidivism by improving connections with treatment services when people return to their communities. Click here to learn more about cost-savings associated with diversion and treatment alternatives.

Myth: Sharing health records with professionals in the criminal justice system will place my patients at risk

Mythbuster: There are ways to design information sharing initiatives that protect patient privacy, preserve clinician-patient trust, and minimize adverse consequences. For example, informed consents that allow people to opt out of sharing their health records with particular agencies can be used to protect privacy rights and promote autonomy. Furthermore, there are technological approaches for limiting access to sensitive information. While it is essential to protect the privacy rights of people involved in the criminal justice system, in many cases the potential harm that can result when corrections and community health systems do not communicate, outweighs potential risks of unauthorized disclosure. To learn more, check out our Issue Brief on the Ethical Dimensions of Information Sharing or Module 3 of our Toolkit.