Government News
Remedy for Prison MH Crisis: Community Care
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 20 page 6-6

Expanding access to community-based mental health treatment has the potential to reduce the number of people with mental illness who are incarcerated in the nation's prisons and jails, according to a mental health advocacy coalition.

The Department of Justice reported in "Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates" that more than half of all inmates have mental health problems (see article above). In response, the Campaign for Mental Health Reform (CMHR) is calling for increased funding of community-based and preventive mental health treatment.

The CMHR is a coalition of 16 national health organizations, of which APA is a member, that formed after release of the 2003 report of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health.

In a press release that CMHR issued on the Department of Justice report, CMHR called for increased federal and state funding of community-based mental health services; evidence-based practices such as peer-support programs and supported housing; increased funding in early intervention and rehabilitative mental health services for children and adults; and full funding of the Mentally III Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2004, which authorized up to $50 million annually in funding for programs that engage criminal justice and mental health systems in reducing the criminalization of people with mental illness.

The CMHR also emphasized the importance of pre-release planning services for inmates with mental illness.

Another group, the National Association of Counties (NACO), called on the U.S. attorney general to create a national commission to study and make recommendations to all levels of government on how to reduce the number of inmates with mental illness. In July APA's Board of Trustees voted to support NACO's action.

"There are various levels of government that could be involved in funding community services for people with mental illness, thereby lowering their incarceration rates," Don Murray, NACO's senior legislative director for justice and public safety, told Psychiatric News." If we can lower the recidivism rate, we can direct billions of dollars that would have been spent on incarceration into mental health prevention programs. This is a major crisis—a problem that is intensifying."

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