NAMI Warns Senate about Criminalization of Mental Illness; Supports Cornyn Bill

Feb 10 2016

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) today warned the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that criminalization of people living with mental illness has reached "crisis proportions" and called for support of federal, state and local reforms to overcome failings in both the mental health care and criminal justice systems.

In written testimony submitted to a committee hearing on "Breaking the Cycle: Mental Health and the Justice System," NAMI Senior Policy Advisor Ronald S. Honberg presented NAMI's support of S.2002, the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act, introduced by Senator John Cornyn of Texas. 

Approximately 20% of all federal and state prisoners have serious mental illness. An estimated two million are admitted to jails each year. Incarceration usually leads to worsening of psychiatric symptoms. In jails, the cost of providing care for adults with mental illness is two to three times greater than that for other inmates. It costs less to put non-violent individuals with mental illness into treatment than to put them in jail. Diversion is both cost effective and humane.

NAMI emphasized its strong support for several initiatives reflected in S. 2002, including:

  • Creation of a specialized National Criminal Justice and Mental Health Training and Technical Assistance Center.
  • Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) programs for law enforcement officers and other first responders to people in crisis.
  • Specialized mental health or drug courts to divert offenders with mental illness and co-occurring disorders from federal prosecution or federal custody into treatment. 
  • Forensic assertive community treatment (ACT) programs for offenders with mental illness and co-occurring disorders.  
  • Improved treatment in correctional facilities.
  • National data collection on interactions between people with mental illness and the criminal justice system, including those killed or seriously injured in confrontations with police.

In addition, NAMI declared, federal action "will yield significant benefits through reduced recidivism, enhanced public safety, and most importantly, giving people chances to recover and lead meaningful, productive lives."

Honberg noted the importance of "never giving up on people." NAMI's members include many who were once involved with criminal justice systems and are now in recovery leading productive lives as contributing members of society.

About NAMI

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.