Bipartisan Bill Introduced to Reduce Criminalization

Author: Ron Honberg - 4/20/2015

Act Now To Urge Your Legislators To Co-Sponsor 

The high rate of people with serious mental illness, including Veterans, who are in jails and prisons is one of the profound tragedies in 21st Century America. In local jails alone, it is estimated that 2 million individuals with serious mental illness are booked into jails each year. People with mental illness and substance use disorders are also overrepresented in state and federal prisons. Most of these individuals are not violent criminals but rather in need of quality mental health treatment and supports.

Last week, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. These bills (S. 993 in the Senate, HR 1854 in the House) update and reauthorize the Mentally Ill Offender and Treatment Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) passed in 2004. Senators Al Franken, D-Minn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, are the Senate lead co-sponsors and Representatives Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Bobby Scott, D- Va., are the lead co-sponsors in the House. The two bills were assigned to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees.

The bill incorporates the “Sequential Intercept Model” as a foundation for services. This is a comprehensive approach to services that emphasizes interventions at whatever stage of the criminal justice process a person is, whether pre-arrest, post-arrest, during incarceration, or upon discharge into the community. It requires all relevant systems (criminal justice, mental health, substance abuse, consumers and families and others) to work together to design and implement strategies to reduce imprisonment and improve treatment and rehabilitation.

The bill authorizes funding for a variety of relevant services, including:

  • Law enforcement training and partnerships such as Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) programs;
  • Specialty Courts such as Veterans Treatment Courts and Mental Health Courts;
  • Treatment and services in correctional settings, including alternatives to solitary confinement;
  • Programs to assist people transitioning out of corrections and reentering communities, including mental health and substance use treatment, housing and employment.

Action Needed

Finding additional co-sponsors and supporters in the Senate and House will be critical to moving these bills forward. Check to see if your Representative or 2 U.S. Senators are co-sponsoring the bill by clicking on the links above. If they are not currently co-sponsors, please contact them and urge them to join as co-sponsors of this important legislation.

Contact your legislators today!