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Senate Passes Mental Health Courts Legislation

IMMEDIATE HOUSE ACTION NEEDED


For Immediate Release, September 28, 2000
Contact: Chris Marshall
703-524-7600



On Tuesday September 26, legislation to establish mental health courts for nonviolent offenders with severe mental illnesses (S 1865) passed the full Senate. Senators Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Pete Domenici (R-NM) cosponsored and introduced S. 1865, America's Law Enforcement and Mental Health Project, last November. S 2272, the Strengthening Abuse and Neglect Courts Act of 2000 also sponsored by Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), passed the full Senate along with S. 1865. This bill will help to improve the administrative efficiency and effectiveness of the Nation's abuse and neglect courts and adds other provisions consistent with the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.

As readers of the NAMI E-News know, the establishment of mental health courts is one of NAMI's principal advocacy strategies to address the stark reality that jails and prisons have become the nation's depository for people with severe mental illnesses. The cumulative effect of past and current rapid downsizing and closure of state psychiatric hospitals and the absence of evidenced-based community treatment programs has resulted in people with severe mental illnesses falling into the criminal justice system.

There are only a few days remaining before congressional adjournment. Therefore, NAMI advocates need to call for immediate action in the full House to pass this legislation so that it can go to President Clinton this year. On Thursday, September 21, Representative Bill McCollum (R-FL), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, held the first congressional hearing on criminalization since the release of a special Justice Department report last year. Members of the House need to be reminded of the importance of this hearing.

Action Needed

All NAMI members and advocates are urged to call their House members and push for immediate House passage of S 1865 and S. 2272. Urge your member of Congress to call on House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Crime Subcommittee Chairman Bill McCollum (R-FL) to immediately bring these bills to the full House. Remember that Congress is finishing up the year's business, and it is important that NAMI makes its voice heard in the limited time left in this congressional session. All members of the House of Representatives can be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or by going to the policy page of the NAMI web site at www.nami.org/policy.htm and click on "Write to Congress." District and Washington office numbers can be found in your local phone book or through http://www.congress.org/. Attached below is a sample letter that can be faxed to your member of Congress-fax number are also available through http://www.congress.org/.

SAMPLE LETTER:

September 28, 2000

The Honorable ____________
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear ________:

I am writing to urge you support immediate House passage of the S 1865, Senator Mike DeWine's mental health courts bill. I strongly support this important bill as a significant step forward in curbing the growing trend of "criminalization" of mental illness. I urge that you contact House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde and Crime Subcommittee Chairman Bill McCollum and request that they immediately bring this legislation to the full House for vote before the 106th Congress adjourns.

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. In fact, on September 21, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the issue of "criminalization" of mental illness and received testimony from judges and prosecutors on the successes local mental health courts have achieved in addressing this disturbing trend.

Mental health courts have been necessitated by the growing concern among judicial, law enforcement and corrections officials about the disturbing trend of persons with severe mental illness being inappropriately placed in jails for non-violent offenses. S 1865 will assist communities across our state and the nation in putting in place innovative approaches to diverting offenders into treatment programs and easing the growing burden on criminal justice and corrections systems.

The U.S. Department of Justice reported in 1999 that 16% of all inmates in state and federal jails have a severe mental illness. 283,000 people with serious mental illnesses were in jail or prison - more than four times the number in state mental hospitals. The average daily number of patients in state and county psychiatric hospitals has steadily dropped from 592,853 in 1950 to 71,619 in 1994. It is unconscionable that people with legitimate medical conditions have had their healthcare options cut and removed and are being imprisoned, instead of being provided with access to appropriate treatment and services in the community and, when necessary, hospitalization.

I urge that you contact Chairman Hyde and Chairman McCollum and persuade them to immediately bring this legislation to the full House so that it can be passed in the remaining days and 106th Congress and be sent on to the White House. Thank you for your attention in this important matter for people with severe mental illnesses and their families.

Sincerely,

 


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