Senator Al Franken’s bipartisan proposal to bolster access to mental health services for people in the criminal justice system is set to become law after passing as part of a legislative package in Congress.
For years, Sen. Franken has fought to reform how mental illness is treated in the criminal justice system, and to ensure law enforcement personnel have access to training to safely deal with mental health crises they confront. His Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act, which has passed in Congress as part of the21st Century Cures Act, will help local communities and states like Minnesota better identify and respond appropriately to a person with a mental health condition who may otherwise get caught up in the criminal justice system. It also supports mental health courts and efforts to train law enforcement to safely handle mental health crises.
“Our criminal justice system is broken-it doesn’t treat people who have mental illnesses, nor does it protect the safety of law enforcement who have to intervene when somebody is facing a mental health crisis,” said Sen. Franken. “The United States now has five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prison population. And that’s in large part because we have criminalized mental illness, using our local jails as a substitute for a fully functioning mental health system. That’s a huge problem that my measure will help address, and I’m very pleased to say that it’s finally set to become law.”
For years, Sen. Franken—a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee—has been working on his criminal justice measure in order to bring more resources to law enforcement, the courts, and correctional facilities to help them better deal with the increasingly prevalent mental health issues they encounter. He’s held discussions on his legislation all across Minnesota, meeting with law enforcement, advocates, and other experts on how to best reform how our criminal justice system handles mental illness.
The bill will improve outcomes for the criminal justice system, the mental health system, and for those with mental health conditions by doing the following, among other things:
- extending the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA), and continuing support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams;
- supporting state and local efforts to identify people with mental health conditions at each point in the criminal justice system in order to appropriately direct them to mental health services;
- increasing focus on corrections-based programs, such as transitional services that reduce recidivism rates and screening practices that identify inmates with mental health conditions;
- supporting the development of curricula for police academies and orientations; and
- developing programs to train federal law enforcement officers in how to respond appropriately to incidents involving a person with a mental health condition.
More information on the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act is available here.