On March 6, 2008, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 2304, the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Reauthorization and Improvement Act (MIOTCRA). The legislation, introduced last year by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), will now be sent to the Senate floor for consideration.
The bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in January with overwhelming bipartisan support, will help provide states and counties with the resources needed to design and implement collaborative efforts between the criminal justice and mental health systems. The legislation offers grants to communities to develop diversion programs, mental health treatments in jails and prisons, and transition and aftercare services to facilitate reentry into the community. The bill also provides for the cross-training of criminal justice, law enforcement and mental health personnel.
With bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, the legislation will raise the authorization level of MIOTCRA from $50 million per year to $75 million per year and will extend the authorization through 2014. The bill will also reauthorize the Mental Health Courts grant program (Public Law 106-515) and will require that a study be conducted on the prevalence of mental illness in prisons and jails."
More information is available from the Consensus Project.
Earlier posts on the MIOTCRA are available here and here.
The bad news is that expanding federal resources by $25 million will do little to help given the scope of the national problem, and I don't know that we really need more studies of mental illness and crime so much as resources aimed at diverting offenders into treatment instead of warehousing. We know their "prevalence": Thirty percent of prison inmates in Texas are past clients of the state's indigent mental health system. We don't need to study the problem, we need Congress to fund more pilot solutions so we can study the results and find out what works.
I'm a fan of the idea of mental health courts, although I haven't seen data yet from those that have (recently) begun in Texas. (Harris County has operated a mental health court since 2006.) To me, adjudication of mentally ill offenders is an area where a less adversarial, problem-solving approach benefits the defendant, the taxpayers' bottom line, and also public safety. There's nothing either constitutionally prescribed nor inherently beneficial about the adversarial system, and while I don't want to toss it out entirely, as commenter Jigmeister accused me of recently, it makes sense when adjudicating the mentally ill to mitigate its rough edges in the same way that happens in family court, where adversarial interests are tempered by the requirement to consider "the best interests of the child." (I'll likely have more to say on this topic soon, as several recent items combined with Jigmeister's complaints have me thinking about it.)
In the meantime, adding $25 million for mental health courts and a study is a nice little bipartisan pat on the head from Congress, if it passes, but it's a teaspoon of remedy for an oceanic problem.
- Grayson County applies to create mental health court
- Mental health courts: A strategy that works?
- Are there options to warehousing mentally ill offenders in jail?
- McKnight: 'Mental health consumers don't belong in jail'
- When I was sick, did you imprison me?
- Counties explore solutions for mentally ill in Texas jails
- New Austin PD office will defend mentally ill
- Travis County MH public defender opens