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Jenni Muns

Policy Associate, National Council for Behavioral Health

New Legislation Aims to Strengthen Mental Health System, Improve Public Safety

August 6, 2015 | Justice | Comments
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This week, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act (S.2002), which aims to bolster the nation’s mental health system and increase public safety. The bill includes targeted reforms to the mental health system, tactics to improve judicial responses to meet the needs of individuals with mental illness, and funding and resources for programs for justice-involved individuals with mental health conditions.

In response to rising awareness of the need to better educate public safety officials about mental illness, S.2002 expands the use of specialized law enforcement Crisis Intervention Teams, which are trained to respond to people in crisis and de-escalate dangerous situations.

Additionally, the legislation authorizes pre-trial screening, assessment, and supervision programs for mentally ill offenders. These steps have been proposed to improve outcomes for these individuals by ensuring that they are accurately diagnosed and receive appropriate need-based treatment that focuses on increasing safety. The bill also aims to increase the use of treatment-based alternatives to incarceration for individuals whose condition would worsen through sentences in prisons and jails. S.2002 also incorporates the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act, which provides funding for correctional institutions to identify and screen for mentally ill inmates, provide these individuals with appropriate treatment, and develop post-release transition plans for them. The bill also includes tactics to improve law enforcement responses to meet the needs of people with mental illness.

Additionally, the legislation provides resources to improve re-entry programming for mentally ill offenders who are released back into the community. It also includes initiatives to ensure that these individuals receive support and treatment-based interventions to prevent mental health crises, even when they are not in the physical custody of law enforcement or the justice system.

Senator Cornyn’s introduction of the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act is the latest in a series of bills targeted towards reducing criminal justice involvement and improving treatment for offenders living with mental illness or addictions. For more, read our coverage of the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act and the Second Chance Act.