A law funding federal grant programs to help people with mental illness who
become entangled with law enforcement was reauthorized and expanded for five
years in October.
The measure came up short of APA's goal for this legislation, which was to
increase funds for the law's existing programs, but it did add $10 million to
train police how to recognize and respond appropriately to situations
involving mentally ill persons.
Moreoever, the law requires the Justice Department to report the rate of
serious mental illness among people in custody or on parole and the rate of
those who are eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income benefits.
"The existing grant program has been useful, and now we will build on
it by providing resources to help law enforcement and the courts better
understand how to address and handle the problems and situations posed by
defendants who have mental health problems," said Sen. Pete Domenici
(R-N.M.), the bill's sponsor, in a written statement.
The measure is titled the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime
Reduction Reauthorization and Improvement Act (S 2304, PL 110-416). Other
members of Congress who led the effort for its passage included Sen. Edward
Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.).
Other grants are earmarked for creating "specialized receiving
centers" to assess the mental health requirements and suicide risk of
recently arrested people, computerized information systems to improve police
response to likely mentally ill suspects, and programs to train campus
security personnel to identify and respond appropriately to incidents in which
individuals thought to be mentally ill are involved.
One of the programs that the law reauthorizes provides federal grants to
states and local communities for jail-diversion initiatives, community-reentry
services, and other efforts to address the needs of people with serious mental
illness and cooccurring substance use disorders who are accused of nonviolent
offenses. The law also reauthorizes support for preincarceration programs that
provide counselor intervention for individuals with mental illness.
Jail-diversion programs employ mental health professionals to screen new
nonviolent detainees for mental disorders and offer treatment-based
alternatives to incarceration.
"Mental health courts are not a panacea for addressing the needs of
the growing number of people with mental illnesses who come in contact with
the criminal justice system," Domenici said. "But they should be
one part of the solution."
The 2004 law authorized spending up to $50 million per year for Fiscal 2006
and Fiscal 2007, but only $5 million was actually provided in each of those
Advocates of the measure fought to increase the annual funding level to $75
million through 2014, but they failed to garner enough support for the higher
number; thus, annual funding limits remain at $50 million. Advocates must
still seek allocation of funds—up to their full authorized
levels—through the federal budget process.
The need for the reauthorization and expansion of the law was described in
a House committee report that cited Justice Department statistics from 2006 that
identified likely mental illness in 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent
of federal prisoners, and 64 percent of local jail inmates.
In addition, research findings have shown that state prisoners with a
mental health problem are twice as likely as those without a psychiatric
condition to have been homeless in the year before their arrest, according to
"Many of these individuals are not violent or habitual
criminals," said Domenici in a speech on the Senate floor. "Most
have been charged or convicted of nonviolent crimes that are a direct
consequence of not having received needed treatment and supportive services
for their mental illness."
On any given day, at least 284,000 seriously mentally ill people are
incarcerated, while just 187,000 such individuals are in mental health
facilities, said Scott in a 2007 hearing on the legislation.
"Jails and prisons require extra staffing and treatment resources for
inmates with mental illness," said Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.).
Supporters of the measure said that communities that have taken advantage
of past grants have seen their mental health and criminal justice systems work
collaboratively on solutions and have achieved a considerable impact in
fostering recovery, improving treatment outcomes, and decreasing
The measure passed over the objections of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who
said that the law would duplicate other sources of funding for mentally ill
prisoners. It ultimately passed by a simple voice vote.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the law will cost about $565
million through 2014.
The text of the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction
Reauthorization and Improvement Act can be accessed at<http://thomas.loc.gov>
by searching on the bill number, S 2304. ▪