U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), along with a bipartisan group of 16 Senators, today introduced legislation, the Justice & Mental Health Collaboration Act (JMHCA), to reauthorize and improve current mental health laws dealing with the treatment of criminals suspected of mental illness.
"Our law enforcement professionals are often on the front lines when it comes to identifying and interacting with the mentally ill," Johanns said. "The goal of this legislation is to help law enforcement ensure incarcerated people with mental illnesses receive the services they need. In doing so, we can help prevent future violent actions and give our officers more time to do their primary job of protecting our communities."
The president of the Major Counties Sheriffs Association recently estimated that as many as 30 percent of inmates under his supervision are suffering from mental health conditions. The former executive director of the National Sheriffs Association echoed that concern saying in many areas, "the county's jails hold more people with severe psychiatric illnesses than any psychiatric facility in the county."
The JMHCA reauthorizes and improves current law known as the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA), which passed in 2004. Key provisions in the act will:
* Continue support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams, both of which save lives and money;
* Wisely direct grant funds to prioritize programs proven effective;
* Support the development of curricula for police academies and orientations to help officers identify the warning signs of inmates with mental illness;
* Increase focus on corrections-based programs, like transitional services that reduce recidivism rates and screening practices that identify inmates with mental health conditions; and
* Cuts federal red tape to give local officials greater control over an inmate's enrollment in mental health programs.
Companion legislation was also introduced in the House with 10 sponsors. Nearly 170 organizations have endorsed the bill, including leading law enforcement and corrections groups like the National Association of Police Organizations, the Major County Sheriffs Association, and the Major Cities Chiefs of Police, veterans' services organizations like the American Legion and the Wounded Warrior Project, and mental health advocates like the National Alliance on Mental Illness.