Government News
SAMHSA Funds Efforts to Prevent Incarceration of Mentally Ill People
Psychiatric News
Volume 40 Number 22 page 8-8

A new round of federal grants, long supported by APA, aims to reduce the nearly 800,000 arrests of people with mental illness made each year.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will distribute $7.2 million in state grants over three years to divert individuals with mental illness away from the criminal justice system and into community-based mental health services, including substance abuse treatment.

"All too often individuals with mental illness, often with co-occurring substance abuse, are incarcerated instead of receiving treatment for their disorders," said SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie, M.A., when the grants were announced last month.

The treatment and support services that the grants will fund can reduce the criminalization and incarceration of nonviolent adult offenders with mental illnesses, Curie said.

APA has been a strong advocate of the jail-diversion grant program, which has awarded 26 three-year grants since it began in 2002. The Mental Health Liaison Group (MHLG), which APA helps lead, has reported that research consistently shows that jail-diversion programs are effective and benefit not only individuals with mental illness but also their communities. Researchers estimate that 7 percent of the 11.4 million people arrested each year have current symptoms of mental illness. Three-quarters of those individuals have co-occurring substance use disorders, according to a study in the August 1996 Archives of General Psychiatry.

The SAMHSA jail-diversion grant program "should continue based not only on its efficacy, but also because, for people inappropriately warehoused in jails, appropriate and effective community-based treatment is needed now," stated the MHLG's recommendation for federal Fiscal 2006 appropriations.

In 2003 the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health recommended" widely adopting adult criminal justice and juvenile justice diversion... strategies to avoid the unnecessary criminalization and extended incarceration of nonviolent adult and juvenile offenders with mental illness."

SAMHSA lists more than 300 jail-diversion programs nationwide. The programs include efforts to divert people with mental illness into treatment before formal charges are brought and "postbooking" efforts to identify mentally ill individuals in jail or in court and divert them to mental health programs.

The grant recipients coordinate with social-service agencies to ensure that life-skills training, housing placement, vocational training, job placement, and health care are available to those who are diverted.

The grants funded six programs in five states.

Among the largest grant recipients, New York City will receive $400,000 annually for three years to help the Bronx expand its mental health court and serve 180 more mentally ill individuals annually who are charged with misdemeanor offenses. Services will include Assertive Community Treatment and wellness self-management programs that provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services.

A 2004 SAMHSA-funded study found that these programs reduce the time people with mental illness spend in jail and successfully link diverted inmates to community-based services, without increasing the safety risk to the public.

More information about the grant recipients is posted at<www.samhsa.gov/news/newsreleases/051007_JailDiversion.htm>.

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