President Bush signed a bill on Oct. 30 that authorizes an increase in federal funds for programs providing mental health services to adult and juvenile nonviolent offenders.
The law, titled the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2004:
Authorizes $50 million in federal grants to expand prisoner access to mental health treatment during and after incarceration.
Provides additional resources for pretrial jail diversion programs and mental health courts.
Funds increased cross-training for police and mental health personnel working with offenders who have mental health disorders.
The House of Representatives passed, and the Senate then unanimously approved, the legislation in early October.
Two mental health coalitions, the Mental Health Liaison Group and the Campaign for Mental Health Reform, are urging Congress to appropriate funds authorized by the new law. APA is a member of both coalitions.
Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio), a counseling psychologist, and Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) sponsored the bill, which expands on their mental health courts pilot project enacted in 2000 called America's Law Enforcement and Mental Health Project. The program helps fund mental health courts that are separate from regular criminal courts and hear cases in which mentally ill people commit nonviolent offenses.
In his testimony in support of the bill, Strickland pointed out that more than 20 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have serious mental health problems, according to the Justice Department.
The law places critically needed resources on the front lines, says Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA's executive director for professional practice.
"It will improve collaboration among the criminal justice, juvenile justice, mental health and substance abuse treatment systems," Newman says. "It will ensure that nonviolent offenders with mental health disorders receive the treatment they need and are not simply recycled into the system."
Leading up to the House vote, the APA Practice Organization called to action hundreds of APA members who urged their representatives to support the legislation.
"We thank Sen. DeWine and Rep. Strickland for leading this effort and developing a multi-pronged strategy that will provide mental health services to an underserved population," says Newman.
Read the full text of the bill by visiting http://thomas.loc.gov and searching for bill S.1194.