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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Justice and Mental Health Legislation Introduced in the House, Senate

April 23, 2015 | Justice | Comments
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Last week, bipartisan legislation to support collaborative programs between criminal justice and mental health agencies was introduced in the House and Senate. Similar legislation was introduced in 2013, but hit a snag after two Senators placed it on hold and the legislation never received a vote.

The Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act (CJMHA) (S. 993/H.R.1854) – introduced by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) – primarily reauthorizes and improves the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) of 2004. The legislation would also:

  • Continue support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams;
  • Expand services to veterans that include treatment court programs, peer to peer services, appropriate services to veterans who have been incarcerated, and training programs for criminal justice, law enforcement and corrections personnel to identify and respond to incidents involving veterans with a mental health condition;
  • Make grants to provide broader training during police academies and orientation that teach law enforcement personnel how to identify and respond to incidents involving persons with mental health disorders;
  • Would create programs that offer federal first responders and tactical units comprehensive training in procedures to identify and respond appropriately to incidents involving mentally ill individuals;
  • Increases focus on prison and jail-based programs;
  • Gives local officials greater control over program participation eligibility; and
  • Requires annual audits of all grant recipients to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of funds by grantees.

“Right now, our criminal justice system is facing a crisis. We’re using jails and prisons as a substitute for a properly functioning mental health system.” said Senator Franken in a statement. “This is a problem—it’s causing overcrowding in our correctional facilities and forcing taxpayers to foot the bill. The bipartisan bill that Rep. Collins and I have introduced will help fix this issue by providing resources to the criminal justice system, crisis intervention teams, and law enforcement to help improve outcomes for people with mental illness. I look forward to working on getting this bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee and across the finish line.”

“Our jails are not mental health facilities. It’s time we stop using them as such—to find ways to treat people and prevent incarceration,” added Representative Collins. “I am pleased to be working with Sen. Franken to better address helping the mentally ill in our criminal justice system.”

This bipartisan legislation already has substantial support in both chambers of Congress. Original cosponsors include: Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rob Portman (R-OH), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) in the Senate and Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA), Richard Nugent (R-FL), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Leonard Lance (R-NJ), Susan Brooks (R-IN), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA),Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Pete Sessions (R-TX), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Fred Upton (R-MI), Mike Honda (D-CA), Dave Loebsack (D-IA), Brad Ashford (D-NE) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) in the House.