NAMI Applauds Visionary Bill to Reduce Criminalization of Mental Illness

Jun 05 2003

Arlington, VA – Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), in partnership with a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues, and Congressman Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) addressed the national tragedy of criminalizing individuals with mental illness today by introducing the "Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2003." NAMI strongly endorses this important bill to reduce unnecessary incarceration of juveniles and adults with mental illnesses and applauds these visionary leaders.

"The misuse of our police as front-line mental health crisis responders and our jails as de-facto psychiatric treatment facilities is a national outrage," stated NAMI Executive Director Richard C. Birkel, Ph.D. "This legislation is an important step forward in ending this national tragedy and in shifting valuable resources where they can do the most good – the provision of treatment and supportive services."

The timely introduction of this bill precedes the final report and recommendations of President Bush’s "New Freedom" Commission on Mental Health. The Commission’s report is expected to emphasize that America’s mental health system is in shambles and to recommend a series of steps that can be taken to improve treatment and services for people suffering from serious mental illnesses.

Reflecting the current administration’s work to assess and improve the mental health system, this Act establishes a grant program at the U.S. Department of Justice that can be used by states and communities to:

  • enact jail diversion programs;
  • provide treatment to juveniles and adults with serious mental illnesses who are incarcerated;
  • fund cross-training of criminal justice and mental health personnel; and
  • provide mental health services to individuals with serious mental illnesses upon reentry into the community.

Director of NAMI’s Office of Consumer Affairs Tom Lane praised the bill at a press conference announcing its introduction this morning, explaining that the services available through this legislation could have put him on a path to recovery much sooner. "Five years ago, I was in crisis, suicidal, and in desperate need of access to mental health services," Lane explained. "I got a law enforcement response, not a mental health response. What I needed was help from the mental health system, not entanglement with the criminal justice system. There simply were no alternatives available at that time. This bill will create alternatives."