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June 23, 2004

NAMI’s June Poe Testifies at House Hearing on S. 1194 – A Big Advocacy Push is Needed to Pass this Important Legislation!

After passing the Senate in 2003, "The Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act" (S. 1194) has, until recently, languished in the House of Representatives. Now, it appears that the bill is beginning to move in the House. On June 22nd, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a hearing on the bill. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included June Poe, former President of NAMI-Roanoke Valley (Virginia), on behalf of NAMI.

S. 1194 would authorize $100 million in grants to states and communities that could be used in a variety of ways, including jail diversion programs, community reentry programs, or enhanced treatment of individuals with serious mental illnesses who come into contact with criminal justice systems. S. 1194 (HR 2387 in the House) was introduced by Congressman Ted Strickland (D. Ohio), and currently has 26 co-sponsors. For a list of co-sponsors, see http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d108:HR02387:@@@P

In her testimony, June Poe provided compelling details about her son, who has struggled for many years with schizophrenia. Unfortunately, like so many people living with severe mental illnesses, the treatment he needed was not available until he became involved with the local criminal justice system. Today, he is finally receiving the services he needs through an assertive community treatment (ACT) program and "is well along the road to recovery." Ms. Poe's testimony stressed the need for collaboration between the mental health community and the criminal justice system. She called upon Congress to enact S. 1194, explaining that this bill will provide communities with "opportunities to implement services to break the endless cycle of deterioration and arrests for people like my son, who are not criminals but desperately need treatment!"

Other witnesses at the hearing included:

The Honorable Cheri Nolen, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice;

Sheriff Ted Sexton of Tuscaloosa, Alabama (incoming president of the National Sheriffs Association); and

John Monahan, Ph.D., University of Virginia School of Law, and a nationally recognized expert on law and psychiatry.

Copies of the testimony provided by all of these witnesses (including June Poe) can be found at www.house.gov/judiciary/, scroll to the link for the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.

Following the hearing on June 22nd, we are hopeful that the House Judiciary Committee will "mark up" S. 1194 in early July and send it on to the full House. Clearly, the work you and your fellow advocates have been doing on this bill is making a difference! Our partners in the criminal justice community, who understand that jails are the worst possible environments for people with serious mental illnesses, have been working hard on passage as well.

Advocacy Needed!

Despite the recent progress, more support is needed in the House, particularly from House Republicans. Please continue contacting your U.S. Representatives (whether Republican or Democrat) to urge their support for S. 1194/HR 2387. Enter your zip code below to access a samlple letter on ths issue and list of your representatives to contact now.  If you do not see the box fore entering your zip code, click here.  Some important talking points included in the letter are listed below.

*People with serious mental illnesses are disproportionately represented in U.S. jails and prisons. More than 16% of adults incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons have a serious mental illness, and approximately 20 % of youth in juvenile justice systems have serious mental illnesses. A significant number of these individuals have co-occurring mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. Most of these individuals are not hardened or violent criminals but rather have committed minor offenses that are a direct consequence of lack of treatment and services.

* Treatment works in reducing recidivism and enhancing recovery. The provision of treatment, rehabilitation, and support services have proven effective in preventing additional criminal justice involvement and reducing recidivism among low-level offenders with mental illnesses or co-occurring mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders.

* Putting resources into jail diversion and community reentry frees up law enforcement and criminal justice resources for the purposes intended. Police officers are not trained to be front-line mental health crisis workers, but that's why they increasingly must be. Correctional officers are not trained to provide mental health treatment, but jails and prisons throughout the country have become de-facto "psychiatric treatment facilities." Targeting resources for jail diversion, mental health/substance treatment, and community reentry services has a positive impact both in reducing burdens on these systems and on fostering recovery on the part of those individuals served by these programs.

* Many communities are already well positioned to utilize the resources available under this program in a positive way. Collaborations among mental health, substance abuse, law enforcement, criminal justice, consumers, and family members are already in place in many communities and have shown to be the most effective way to respond to the needs of adults with serious mental illnesses and juveniles with serious emotional disturbances in adult and juvenile corrections facilities, while reducing criminal behaviors among these individuals.

Thank you, as always, for your advocacy!

 


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