Our jails and prisons are increasingly becoming warehouses for our nation's mentally ill. Untreated mental illness often leads to behaviors that attract the attention of police officers. Because so few communities have an adequate infrastructure to provide mental health treatment and services, many of these individuals slip through the cracks and go untreated. If people do not receive treatment after arrest, their condition will usually worsen when they are in custody, increasing the likelihood of re-arrest after their release.

In addition to legislation I recently introduced to end the privatization of our jails and prisons, I have introduced the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act. The bill will authorize grants to help communities establish diversion programs (pre-booking, jail diversion, mental health courts) for mentally ill offenders, in-jail/in-prison treatment programs for the mentally ill incarcerated population, and transitional/aftercare programs for mentally ill offenders who have completed their sentences. The grants will also help pay for community mental health treatment services in addition to program planning and administration, education and training, and temporary housing.

Further, I encourage mental health professionals to get involved with community law enforcement officials. Too few officers understand the symptoms of mental illness in criminal suspects, and too few facilities have officials with adequate training to provide treatment to the individuals under their custody who so desperately need it. I am convinced that the involvement of mental health professionals in the treatment and rehabilitation of mentally ill prisoners has a stabilizing affect on the prison environment. I also believe that the communities to which prisoners will eventually return will benefit from appropriate prerelease treatment programs.

Further Reading

To learn more about this legislation, visit www.house.gov/strickland/legislation.htm.