Sen. Al Franken (DFL-MN) will introduce and Rep. Richard Nugent (R-FL) has already introduced the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act. This bill helps people in the criminal justice system get the mental health help they need.
Is this a sign that Republicans may now be serious about helping the mentally ill? Possibly.
“Minnesota’s jails and prisons are overwhelmed with people who would likely be better served by the mental health system, and many of them need better access to treatment,” said Sen. Franken. “My legislation will make our communities safer and stronger by helping our justice and mental health systems work together to provide better access to treatment for people who need it. It will also ensure that law enforcement officers stay safe when they are responding to mental health crises.”
Sen. Franken, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been working on the measure since early 2012 to bring more resources to law enforcement, the courts, and correctional facilities. They need help so they can better deal with the increasing mental health issues they encounter.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek recently estimated that up to 30 percent of inmates in Hennepin County Jail have mental health issues. The bill would improve outcomes for the criminal justice system, the mental health system, and for those with mental health conditions by doing the following, among other things:
- extending the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) for five years, thus continuing support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams;
- authorizing investments in veterans treatment courts, which serve arrested veterans who suffer from PTSD, substance addiction, and other mental health conditions;
- increasing focus on corrections-based programs, such as transitional services that reduce recidivism rates and screening practices that identify inmates with mental health conditions;
- supporting the development of curricula for police academies and orientations.
Our country’s ability to identify and successfully treat mental health issues has been declining since the early 1980s when we dumped the vast majority of patients out of treatment facilities and into society.
If we’re going to address the epidemic of gun violence terrorizing our country, we’re going to need to rebuild this safety net.
This is a first of many steps.