Congress first authorized the federal Mental Health Courts program as part of legislation passed in 2000 (P.L. 106-515). This bipartisan legislation was sponsored by Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Representative Ted Strickland (D-OH). The establishment of mental health courts is rapidly emerging as one of the most successful strategies to address the stark reality that jails and prisons have become the nation's depository for people with severe mental illnesses. Currently, there are nearly 100 Mental Health Courts in existence around the country.
Mental Health Courts are treatment oriented courts with dedicated mental health dockets, characterized by continuing judicial supervision over a defined time period. The purpose of these Courts is to link people with treatment and supportive services in lieu of incarceration. Many of these Courts operate on a deferred prosecution model, meaning that criminal charges are dropped once individuals complete their treatment programs.
In FY 2002, Congress appropriated $5 million for this program. Last year, in FY 2003, Congress appropriated $4 million. While these are modest funds, they have proven very helpful as "seed grants" in helping these specialized Courts become operational. The elimination of federal support for these innovative programs in FY 2004 would be a serious mistake. Yet, this may well occur. The House of Representatives allocated no money for these courts in its FY 2004 Appropriations bill. Moreover, the Senate Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary Appropriations Subcommittee, which has responsibility for funding this program, similarly appropriated no money for these courts.
Your advocacy is needed to restore funding for Mental Health Courts restored when the Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary Appropriations bill is considered by the full Senate. This could occur as early as the week of September 29th.
Please contact your two U.S. Senators and urge them to support full funding of $10 million for Mental Health Courts when the Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary Appropriations bill comes up for vote on the floor.
All Senators can be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard toll free at 1-800-839-5276 or at 202-224-3121
or online through www.congress.org.
You can also contact them directly with our online advocacy tool.