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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Mental Wellbeing

Comprehensive Criminal Justice, Substance Use Bill Introduced in the House

July 9, 2015 | Addictions | Justice | Comments
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Members of the House have introduced comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation that includes provisions specifically relevant to mental health and substance use treatment services. The Safe, Accountable, Fair and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act (H.R. 2944) authorizes the use of medication-assisted treatment, supports problem-solving courts including drug courts and veterans treatment courts, and funds the implementation of performance-based residential reentry centers.

During the first two weeks of reentry the mortality rate of formerly incarcerated persons is 12 times greater than the general public, with drug overdose being the leading cause of death. The SAFE Justice Act (H.R. 2944) – introduced by Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) – implements programming aimed at reducing these high mortality rates across the nation by promoting treatment and recovery. This bipartisan bill promotes the use of drug courts and veterans’ treatment courts within the federal system as well as enhanced treatment services for those with mental health or substance use disorders. The bill also offers de-escalation trainings to federal law enforcement officials to help them better identify and respond to individuals with such conditions.

“We cannot allow our criminal justice system to remain on its current trajectory,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. “It’s not only fiscally unsustainable, but morally irresponsible. The states have been outperforming Congress on criminal justice reform for years, so today’s introduction of the SAFE Justice Act is a major step forward in implementing effective, meaningful reform on the federal level.

“Our criminal justice system is long overdue for reform,” stated Rep. Bobby Scott “The SAFE Justice Act implements the successful, evidence-based reforms from the states and restores accountability, fairness and rationality to our federal criminal justice system.  Most importantly, it utilizes an evidence-based approach to reduce over-criminalization and over-incarceration and reinvests the savings into community based prevention and early-intervention programs to improve public safety.”

The National Council applauds the leadership of Representatives Sensenbrenner and Scott. This strongly bipartisan legislation (20 cosponsors in total) will help Americans reentering the community stay out of the criminal justice system and lead healthy, productive lives.