In late November, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Fiscal Year 2006 Science, State, Justice Appropriations Act, which includes $5 million in funding for the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2004. This is the first appropriation that the program, which was passed late in 2004, has received.
The mentally ill offender act-sponsored by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio)-establishes a federal grant program to foster state and local initiatives that improve adult and juvenile nonviolent offenders' access to mental health care during and after incarceration. The law also will support jail diversion programs, additional mental health courts and increased cross-training of police, criminal justice personnel and mental health personnel on appropriate handling of criminal offenders with mental illness. The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance will administer the new grant program and will determine the criteria and application schedule.
"Individuals with mental illness are some of the most vulnerable people in our society," says Strickland. "By offering cities and states the resources they need to effectively treat and help mentally ill offenders, we are improving the American criminal justice system and decreasing the chances that these individuals will repeat their crimes."
The act builds on a previous federal grant program sponsored by DeWine and Strickland that funded mental health courts. Much like drug courts, mental health courts help mentally ill offenders by getting them mental health treatment and other services under court supervision in lieu of incarceration. The mental health courts program has provided more than 37 federal grants to states and localities throughout the country to create new mental health courts or expand existing ones.
"During my time as a county prosecutor, I saw firsthand the continuous cycle of arrest, release and re-arrest of nonviolent, mentally-ill offenders," says DeWine. "The grants created by the Mentally Ill Offender law offer hope by creating a chance for law enforcement and mental health providers to work together to find ways to break that cycle."
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 16 percent of adult U.S. prisoners are mentally ill. More than 20 percent of children within the juvenile justice system have serious mental health problems.
"In a fiscal year when federal budget cuts were the norm, it is remarkable that this new program received $5 million," says Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA's executive director for professional practice.
In addition to Strickland and DeWine, who sponsored the legislation, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chair of the Science, State, Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chair of the Science, State, Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, helped secure inclusion of the funding.
Securing funding for the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act was one of the APA Practice Organization's legislative priorities for 2005. The Practice Organization partnered with the Campaign for Mental Health Reform, a coalition of 16 mental health organizations including APA, and the Council of State Governments to advocate for the legislation's passage and funding. In addition, APA members provided grassroots support for the legislation. APA Federal Advocacy Coordinators mobilized hundreds of psychologists in key districts, who weighed in with Senate and House committee members during critical stages of the legislative process.
The $5 million appropriated for the program is a substantial increase over earlier funding for the original mental health courts program, says Marilyn Richmond, JD, assistant executive director for government relations in the APA Practice Directorate. "It shows the significant support by members of Congress for increasing collaborative efforts among the criminal justice, juvenile justice and mental health systems."