U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.) recently announced that they will be introducing bipartisan legislation with 25 cosponsors that would help improve access to mental health services for people who come into contact with the criminal justice system. The bipartisan Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act (JMHCA) of 2013 builds upon the successes of Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) and supports law enforcement training, mental health and veterans treatment courts, as well as provides resources for corrections systems and other collaborative approaches. The House version of the bill was officially introduced yesterday, and the identical Senate version will be introduced in the coming days.
"America'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 Minnesota Senator Al Franken. "In fact, the head of the Major County Sheriffs' Association recently estimated that up to 30 percent of the inmates in his county's jail have mental health issues. This legislation will help our justice and mental health systems work together to provide better access to treatment for people who need it. It will also help law enforcement officers stay safe when they are responding to mental health crises, and ultimately, it will make our communities stronger and safer."
The Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act was signed into law by President Bush in 2004. The funding helps states and counties design and implement collaborative efforts between criminal justice and mental health systems. It was reauthorized again in 2008 and expanded training for law enforcement to identify and respond appropriately to individuals with mental illnesses, and supported the development of law enforcement receiving centers as alternatives to jail booking, where individuals in custody could be assessed for mental health and substance abuse treatment needs.
Congressman Richard Nugent (R-FL), who is the House lead of the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act, explained the importance of the legislation to law enforcement and other first responders: "As a former sheriff, I know that law enforcement are often the first responders to incidents involving people with mental illnesses. The training provisions in the bill will allow officers to respond safely and quickly to people with serious mental illnesses who are in crisis and help keep people with mental illnesses out of jail and get them into treatment."
The new JHMCA legislation extends the program for an additional five years and also fills critical gaps, including providing additional resources for veterans treatment courts to help veterans suffering from behavioral or post-traumatic stress disorders; providing resources for transitional and reentry programs in correctional facilities; allocating resources for communities to better address "high utilizers" of public services; offering broader training during police academies and orientation; and promoting the use of evidence-based practices.
According to Tom Stickrath, Superintendent of Ohio's Bureau of Criminal Investigation: "Jurisdictions across the country are attempting to address the increasing numbers of individuals with mental illness coming into contact with the criminal justice system. We applaud this bipartisan effort to manage this complicated public health and safety issue. This effort strongly reflects the growing recognition that collaborative Justice and Mental Health programs help to promote safer and more effective responses to individuals with mental illness, who are at higher risk of involvement with the criminal justice system."
In addition to growing bipartisan support in Congress, the legislation has been endorsed by law enforcement, mental health professionals, judicial organizations, and veterans groups, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Association of Counties, the National Sheriffs Association, and the American Legion.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. It provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus-driven strategies--informed by available evidence--to increase public safety and strengthen communities.
To view the press release from the bill sponsors, please go to http://www.franken.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=2276
A copy of the legislation is available at http://reentrypolicy.org/documents/0000/1655/House_JMHCA_Bill.pdf
For a copy of the national support letter, seehttp://reentrypolicy.org/documents/0000/1654/MIOTCRA_National_Reauth_Sign_On__Letter_1.23.13.pdf