Why The Detroit News produced the 'Healing Justice' series

The Detroit News

Detroit News reporter Karen Bouffard traveled to Norway in March 2019 to examine how the country's community-based mental health services and prisons have resulted in some of the world's lowest rates of incarceration and recidivism.

Detroit News reporter Karen Bouffard, left, rides along with two members of a crisis response team in Norway.

Her series, "Healing Justice" was produced with support of a European Health Study Fellowship with the Association of Health Care Journalists, funded by The Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit, nonpartisan foundation focused on health. 

Bouffard undertook this project because the United States has the highest rates of incarceration and recidivism in the world. Many mentally ill adults cycle endlessly in and out of local jails and state prisons, and critics contend greater investment in mental health services could reduce prison populations in Michigan and across the country. 

See the full "Healing Justice project.

Through innovative approaches to both mental health and criminal justice, Norway has reduced incarceration and recidivism, and brought hope to mentally ill offenders and their families.

Bouffard started her journey in Bergen, Norway, where Mental Health Ambulances respond to situations that often, in the United States, result in a police response. She met with Vibeke Hellesund, the peer support specialist on an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team similar to one that helped Hellesund's own recovery from severe mental illness.

Two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle in Tromso, Norway, Bouffard met a man who murdered his mother during a psychotic episode. He spent three hours in jail before his transfer to a mental hospital, where he now lives independently in an apartment on the hospital grounds.

Bouffard then traveled to Halden Prison, south of Oslo, where she spent two days observing Norwegian correctional approaches — such as dynamic security and at-home visits with family — that help keep 80% of the county's inmates from re-offending after release.  

In the United States, Bouffard interviewed multiple officials, including the director of the North Dakota Department of Corrections, who — along with officials from other states — has visited Halden Prison and is adopting prison reforms based on the Norwegian model.

Bouffard also interviewed Michigan Department of Corrections officials and toured the Woodland Center Correctional Facility in Whitmore Lake, which treats Michigan's most severely mentally ill criminal offenders.

And in Detroit, she investigated how a shortage of beds in state mental hospitals affected Darian Smith-Blackmon, an autistic and severely mentally ill 19-year-old accused killer. He was discharged from the Wayne County Jail to a hospital emergency room after being found incompetent to stand trial for first-degree murder and remains without a place of residence.

Bouffard is an investigative reporter with The Detroit News who focuses on health care related issues. 

RETURN: Read the complete report, Healing Justice, by Karen Bouffard.