Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.) announced that they will be introducing bipartisan legislation with 25 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, Sen. Franken and Rep. Nugent's bill will help reduce the rates of repeat offenders and improve safety for law enforcement officials.
"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."
"After thirty-seven years in law enforcement, I have seen far too many tragedies result from mental health needs that went either unnoticed, untreated, or misunderstood," said U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.), who introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. "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."
The House version was officially introduced today, and the identical Senate version will be introduced in the coming days.
Sen. Franken, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been working on the measure since early 2012 to bring more resources to law enforcement, the courts, and correctional facilities to help them better deal with the increasingly-prevalent mental health issues they encounter. Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek recently estimated that up to 30 percent of inmates in Hennepin County Jail have mental health issues. 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; and
* supporting the development of curricula for police academies and orientations.