Today, U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.) and U.S. Senator Al Franken announced that they will be introducing bipartisan legislation with 23 cosponsors that will make communities safer by improving access to mental health services for people in the criminal justice system who need treatment. By helping the nation's criminal justice system work with its mental health system, Rep. Nugent and Sen. Franken's bill will help reduce the rates of repeat offenders and improve safety for law enforcement officials.
"After thirty-seven years in law enforcement, I have seen far too many tragedies result from mental health needs that either went unnoticed, untreated, or misunderstood," said U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.) "This legislation will help give law enforcement the tools and training they need to improve the way that our legal system interacts with individual suffering from mental health crises. I want to thank Senator Franken for joining me as a leader on this issue. We've worked together with stakeholders for the last year now and I am looking forward to introducing this important piece of legislation."
"Minnesota's jails and prisons are overwhelmed with people who would likely be better served by the mental health system, and many of them need better access to treatment," said Sen. Franken. "My legislation will make our communities safer and stronger by helping our justice and mental health systems work together to provide better access to treatment for people who need it. It will also ensure that law enforcement officers stay safe when they are responding to mental health crises."
The House version was officially introduced yesterday afternoon, and the Senate version is scheduled to be introduced in the coming days.
Rep. Nugent has been working on this issue in Congress for over a year. Among other things, in January, 2012, he led a bipartisan coalition of 32 of his colleagues in sending a letter (attached) to the U.S. Attorney General and Director of the Office of Management and Budget encouraging the President to include the previous iteration of this legislation as part of his budget request. The reason is simple:
According to data compiled by the Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida, over a five year period, ninety-seven individuals in Miami-Dade County accounted for 2,200 bookings in the county jail, 27,000 days in the jail and 13,000 days in crisis units, state hospitals and emergency rooms. The cost to the state and local taxpayers was nearly $13 million.
Meanwhile, prevention and treatment can dramatically reduce those rates. In Pinellas County, for instance, a mental health jail diversion program showed an 87 percent reduction in re-arrests for the nearly 3,000 offenders who were enrolled.
The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act would improve outcomes for the criminal justice system, the mental health system, and for those with mental health conditions by doing the following, among other things:
extending the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) for five years, thus continuing support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams;
authorizing investments in veterans treatment courts, which serve arrested veterans who suffer from PTSD, substance addiction, and other mental health conditions;
increasing focus on corrections-based programs, such as transitional services that reduce recidivism rates and screening practices that identify inmates with mental health conditions;
In the House Rep. Nugent's bill is cosponsored by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Michael Grimm (R-NY), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), and David Ciciline (D-R.I.).
Sen. Franken's version is cosponsored in the Senate by Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Orrin Hatch (R-Ut.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Susan Collins (R-Me.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
In addition, over 200 organizations from across the nation have endorsed the bill, including leading law enforcement and corrections groups, veterans' services organizations, and mental health advocates.