November 18, 2002
Legislation Introduced to Address Criminalization of Mental Illness
In the closing days of the 107th Congress, a bipartisan group of Senate and House leaders have introduced legislation to help states and communities address the growing and disturbing trend of allowing individuals with severe mental illnesses to fall into the criminal justice system in lieu of treatment and services. The "Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2002" would authorize new federal funds for programs to divert adults with severe mental illnesses (SMI) and juvenile with serious emotional disturbance (SED) into treatment, treatment programs for individuals who are incarcerated, and services to aid people transitioning back into the community.
The Senate bill (S 3147) was introduced by Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) and co- sponsored by Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). An identical bill (HR 5701) was introduced in the House by Representative Ted Strickland (D-OH).
Although it is highly unlikely that this legislation will pass in the few remaining days that Congress will be in session, introduction this year paves the way for re-introduction when the 108th Congress convenes in January 2003. It is very important to get as many members of Congress as possible committed to supporting legislation of this nature in the next Congress.
S 3147/HR 5701 would authorize two types of grants to help state and local governments address the growing tragedy of criminalization. Planning grants would be available for multi-stakeholder coalitions at state or local levels (including law enforcement, corrections, court personnel, mental health, consumer and family advocates, and others) to develop collaborative plans for addressing the needs of adults with SMI and juveniles with SED involved with criminal justice systems. Even more importantly, applicants would be able to apply for grants to implement these plans.
Implementation grants could be used for a range of activities, including:
- Creating or expanding jail diversion programs, including CIT programs and Mental Health Courts, to establish alternatives to incarceration for adults with SMI and juveniles with SED;
- Providing specialized training to criminal justice and mental health systems and personnel to identify and respond to the needs of individuals with mental illnesses or co-occurring mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders;
- Creating or expand local programs that serve individuals with SMI/SED and co-occurring disorders involved with criminal justice systems, such as specialized PACT programs;
- Providing mental health treatment and services to individuals with SMI or SED who are incarcerated; and
- Promoting and providing services designed to aid individuals transitioning from criminal justice systems into the community.
NAMI has been working with a coalition of mental health and criminal justice groups on this legislation. As with any legislation, there are certain sections that require clarification, such as whether funding for services in the bill may include bridge grants for housing for offenders or ex-offenders with mental illnesses. Additionally, we are discussing ways to further strengthen mechanisms for collaborations between mental health and criminal justice systems in the bill. However, the intent of the legislation is very positive and the co-sponsors should be applauded for their leadership of this critically important legislation.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
There are several steps that advocates can take to help move this legislation forward.
First, if you are a constituent of any of the sponsors or co-sponsors of S 3147 or HR 5701, please contact them and express your gratitude and appreciation for their leadership of this important initiative. All members of Congress 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.
Second, if your Senator or Representative is not currently co-sponsoring this legislation, please contact them and urge them to do so when Congress re- convenes in January 2003.
Finally, we invite you to review this legislation.
If you have comments, please submit them to Ron Honberg.
Thank you for your advocacy!