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Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Reauthorization and Improvement Act of 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. DOMENICI. Mr. President, I rise today with my colleagues, Senator Kennedy, Senator Leahy, and Senator Specter, to laud the passage of S. 2304, the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Reauthorization and Improvement Act of 2008. This bill reauthorizes and improves several programs intended to provide federal support for collaborations between criminal justice and mental health systems.

I must first show my great admiration and appreciation for Senator TED KENNEDY, with whom I have worked diligently on legislation related to mental illness. His support, knowledge, and friendship have been invaluable in our joint fight for better access and opportunities for the millions of Americans who suffer from some form of mental illness. To him I owe a debt of gratitude and am thankful for the opportunity to have worked so closely with him for so many years.

It is estimated that approximately 16 percent of adult U.S. jail and prison inmates suffer from mental illness and the numbers are even higher in the juvenile justice system. Many of these individuals are not violent or habitual criminals. Most have been charged or convicted of non-violent crimes that are a direct consequence of not having received needed treatment and supportive services for their mental illness.

The presence of defendants with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system imposes substantial costs on that system and can cause significant harm to defendants. In response to this problem, a number of communities around the country are implementing mental health courts, a specialty court model that utilizes a separate docket, coupled with regular judicial supervision, to respond to individuals with mental illnesses who come in contact with the justice system.

Many communities are not prepared to meet the comprehensive treatment and needs of individuals with mental illness when they enter the criminal justice system. The bill passing today is intended to help provide resources to help states and counties design and implement collaborative efforts between criminal justice and mental health structures. The bill reauthorizes the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Grant Program and reauthorizes the Mental Health Courts Program. It creates a new grant program to help law enforcement identify and respond to incidents involving persons with mental illness and it funds a study and report on the prevalence of mentally ill offenders in the criminal justice system. All of these reforms will help to address this problem from both a public safety and a public health point of view. This will help save taxpayers money, improve public safety, and link individuals with the treatment they need to become productive members of their community.

Certainly, not every crime committed by an individual diagnosed with a mental illness is attributable to their illness or to the failure of public mental health. Mental health courts are not a panacea for addressing the needs of the growing number of people with mental illnesses who come in contact with the criminal justice system. But they should be one part of the solution. Evidence has shown that in communities where mental health and criminal justice interests work collaboratively on solutions it can make a significant impact in fostering recovery, improving treatment outcomes and decreasing recidivism.

I thank my good friends for working with me on this very important issue. I appreciate their commitment to advancing these important programs and I am thankful to be here to see the passage of this legislation that we worked so hard on.

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