Senate Passes Bill To Provide Treatment For Mentally Ill Offenders

WASHINGTON (Friday, September 26, 2008) – The Senate Friday unanimously passed legislation to give aid to state and local law enforcement to help address the needs of nonviolent mentally ill offenders.

The Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act was introduced in 2007 by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).  Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), an original co-sponsor with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa), worked to have the bill approved by the Judiciary Committee in March, and the legislation has been pending in the Senate since April.  Budget cuts have crippled the key programs, lowering funding levels and reducing the amount of grants applications accepted to just 11 percent. 

The bill authorizes $50 million in grants to help state and local governments create or expand mental health courts, treatment and training programs to help address the needs of mentally ill offenders and reduce repeat offenses.  An additional $10 million is authorized to teach law enforcement officers and agents to recognize and react to situations involving mentally ill individuals.

“Senator Kennedy understands that far too often individuals are arrested and subjected to the criminal justice system, when what they really need is treatment and support to overcome mental illness or substance abuse disorders. His bipartisan bill provides strong federal support for helping local communities address this crisis and improve treatment outcomes for mentally ill offenders,” said Anthony Coley, spokesman for Senator Kennedy. “He commends Senator Domenici for his leadership on this bill and on so many other initiatives to improve our nation’s mental health system. He also welcomes the leadership of Bobby Scott and Randy Forbes in The House of Representatives on this needed legislation.”

“I have witnessed the challenges associated with mentally ill offenders who are part of the criminal justice system, and I believe resources are necessary to help local law enforcement and the judicial system implement appropriate measures to address these offenders,” Domenici said. “Senator Kennedy worked hard to get this bill moving, and I am pleased the Senate has approved it.” 

“I am pleased the Senate has finally passed this critical legislation,” said Leahy.  “It has been stalled for months due to Republican objection.  We simply cannot let politics get in the way of helping law enforcement, corrections, and mental health professionals respond to the needs of our communities and address the unique problems associated with mentally ill offenders.  I hope time is not too short in this Congress for the House of Representatives to pass this authorization bill.”

Courts, law enforcement, corrections and mental health communities have all come together in support of this legislation, and Congress is right to respond with this measure that can help improve public safety across the country. More than 16 percent of adults incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons have a mental illness, and about nearly 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system can be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Almost half the inmates in prison with a mental illness were incarcerated for committing a nonviolent crime.  The amended legislation will now be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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