B. Decide who to bring to the table

The next step is to convene relevant stakeholders to start the process of building consensus and mapping out logistics. You should target a group that includes decision makers with the authority to approve and implement policy recommendations.

Click the Justice-Health Information Sharing Stakeholders Checklist to see which stakeholders you may consider including in initial meetings.

Six Guiding Principles:

1. Establish leadership and secure executive support early on.
Support from top-level leadership is critical for the success of information-sharing projects. Executive involvement is crucial when it comes to negotiating budgets, assigning agency staff to support a new initiative, setting priorities and seeking approval to expand the scope of an agency’s mission. Without the political will and buy-in from people in positions of power, interagency initiatives can fail to get off the ground or quickly become unsustainable. Once you have executive-level support from those at the top of organizations, they can delegate technical tasks to members of their staff.

2. Assign joint responsibility for chairing working groups and leading other planning activities.
Ideally, your initial meetings should be co-sponsored by the agencies that will be involved in the information exchange. Working groups that are co-chaired by the heads of both justice and health agencies are more likely to be viewed as collaborative and will be able to draw on resources within the range of partner agencies.

3. Identify legal experts with knowledge of your jurisdiction’s privacy laws.
Personal health information is protected by various federal and state privacy laws that restrict the ability to share information in particular situations and impose requirements for obtaining informed consent (see Module 3 for further details). There is considerable variation in state laws governing personal health information, and the regulations protecting the privacy of mental-health and substance-use information are especially stringent. Therefore, it is important to include people from your health department or treatment community who are versed in federal and state privacy laws.

4. Identify existing interagency groups, including those with prior experience in data sharing.
Your state or local jurisdiction may already have interagency justice and health collaborations, task forces, or steering committees underway, which can provide a foundation for new information-sharing initiatives. Also, many states and local governments have made substantial investments in advancing the use of electronic health records and data exchanges between hospitals and other community healthcare providers. Even if they do not have direct experience with criminal justice information exchanges, representatives from these groups may have already identified and addressed common hurdles to inter-agency collaboration and data sharing (e.g., compliance with state medical privacy laws, technology interoperability). You may also seek advice from local leaders with experience in multi-agency information sharing that are working in contexts outside of health and criminal justice. For example, many states’ child welfare, juvenile justice, and education agencies are collaborating and sharing data, which often includes sensitive information; in order to enhance services for mutually served children and families.

5. Identify boundary spanners.
Boundary spanners are people that work at the interface of health and justice systems, and who understand the common interests, shared goals, and duplicative services,  as well as the distinct expectations, culture, and politics of each agency.  Boundary spanners can act as liaisons between agencies, and provide important insights into the competing priorities and shared aspirations of health and justice officials. Boundary spanners are people such as community health practitioners working in correctional settings to educate people in prison about health and how to navigate the health system in the community, as they prepare to transition from prison into the community.

6. Involve the consumer community.
It may be important to include representatives from the behavioral health consumer community to help you foresee and plan for any privacy or ethical challenges that may arise. Securing the support of consumer advocates such as a local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can help ensure that your policies and services adequately reflect the needs of consumers, and will help ensure your initiative abides by ethical guidelines that protect consumer interests and well-being.