Legislative Roundup: State Governments Tackle Mental Health and Criminal Justice Issues

February 27, 2009

From a new court rule in Idaho that expands the reach of mental health courts to enhanced mental health training requirements for police officers in Indiana and Oklahoma, state legislatures across the country continued to prioritize criminal justice and mental health issues throughout 2008. The Justice Center has compiled a list of several state laws that passed in 2008 focused on individuals with mental illnesses involved in the criminal justice system. 1


  • Senate Bill 1700: Makes changes to various sections of the state criminal code. These changes include a new rule that all state Parole Board members must undergo training on issues such as mental health treatment services, victims rights, and existing re-entry services. These changes also require the Parole Board to employ at least one psychologist with expertise in risk assessment. In addition, the bill mandates that the Court Support Services Division (CSSD), a state agency that coordinates pre-trial services, family services, sentencing and supervision options for adults and juveniles, create a court-based diversion program for people with psychiatric disabilities who have committed crimes or violations that are deemed “not serious in nature.” The bill also outlines eligibility criteria for the program and processes for notifying victims and creating treatment plans for participants. Finally, the bill directs the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to collaborate with the CSSD to provide community-based treatment services to program participants.


  • House Bill 1429: Mandates that the adult and juvenile criminal justice systems and community-based service providers create written cooperative agreements with one another regarding diversion and connection to community-based mental health treatment. This bill also includes a legislative finding which concludes that individuals with untreated behavioral health issues create an unnecessary financial burden to the state, especially through their interactions with the adult and juvenile criminal justice systems. The bill then notes that, despite this issue, most individuals do respond well to treatment services when they are available, and that state and local treatment providers have recently begun to make great strides in improving the availability of such services.
  • Administrative Order #2008-05: Establishes a mental health court docket in Leon County, which encompasses the city of Tallahassee. This order establishes guidelines for the mental health court, outlining what days and what times the court will meet. In addition, the order assigns judges to the felony mental health docket, and outlines general eligibility requirements and exclusion criteria. The order also mandates that the mental health court team be made up of a court coordinator, a competency specialist, a pre-trial specialist, a case manager, probation officers, a supervisor from the Department of Children and Families, which oversees mental health and substance abuse services in the state, and the jail clinical staff.

Related Resource: The Florida Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Criminal Justice Technical Assistance Center, a part of the University of South Florida’s Florida Mental Health Institute (FMHI) provides technical assistance to counties in Florida that are trying to measure the effectiveness of programs designed to help individuals mental illness involved in the criminal justice system. FMHI also maintains a database of Florida-specific and nationwide information and resources related to this population. Please click here to visit their website.


  • Idaho Code § 19-5608: Annotates a section of the Idaho code related to the implementation of drug and mental health courts in the state. The new rule requires the creation of a statewide mental health court committee consisting of a judge, court administrator, court coordinator, prosecutor, public defender, probation officer and representatives from the following agencies and organizations: the state Department of Corrections, treatment service providers, Department of Education, Commission of Pardons and Parole, Department of Health, Department of Juvenile Corrections, State Police, Department of Transportation, state legislature and the Governor s office. The mental health court committee must set statewide guidelines for mental health court eligibility, identification of participants, screening, assessment, treatment, case management, supervision and evaluation. The committee must also develop a mental health court procedural manual, training opportunities for other drug and mental health court teams, and design an evaluation strategy for all mental health courts within the state.

Related Resource: The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) designated five mental health courts as learning sites to provide a peer support network for local and state officials interested in planning a new–or improving upon an existing–mental health court. One of the learning sites is in Bonneville County, Idaho.


  • House Act 1105: Adds new standards related to academy training for law enforcement officers in Indiana. One of the new standards mandates a minimum of six hours of training for officers on interacting with people with behavioral health problems, including serious mental illnesses.

Related Resource: Click here for the new Justice Center publication Improving Responses to People with Mental Illnesses: Strategies for Effective Law Enforcement Training.


  • House Bill 130: Amends an existing state law governing the creation of specialty courts to allow judges within the Fourth Judicial District, which includes the two rural parishes of Ouachita and Morehouse, the option to create one or more mental health courts for individuals with mental illnesses who are involved in the criminal justice system.

Related Resource: For jurisdictions interested in starting their own mental health court, click here for the newest version of The Essential Elements of a Mental Health Court, a Justice Center publication which details the ten common elements found in mental health courts across the country.

New Hampshire

  • 2008 Court Rule: Amends a previous law which established the New Hampshire Mental Health Court Pilot Program in the Keene District Court in 2002. The new rule updates the purpose of the pilot program, placing a larger emphasis on the goal of improved public safety for the general community. The rule also reiterates previous goals of the mental health court: maximizing cooperation between the mental health and criminal justice systems, encouraging faster case processing, improving access to treatment services, improving the well-being of participants, and reducing recidivism.


  • Senate Bill 1625: Changes an existing public safety law to order all basic police training courses to include a minimum of four hours of education and training on recognizing and addressing the needs of individuals who require mental health treatment services. Under the new bill, all active full-time peace officers will also be expected to complete at least two hours of continuing education related to mental health issues.

Related Resource: Click here for the new Justice Center publication Improving Responses to People with Mental Illnesses: The Essential Elements of a Specialized Law Enforcement-Based Program.


  • House Bill 859: Reports findings from the General Assembly about the state s inmate population. According to the findings, two-thirds of incarcerated individuals with a substance abuse problem also have a co-occurring mental health issue. The bill authorizes a reinvestment of savings from the state Department of Corrections budget into substance abuse and mental health treatment services. The bill allocates $200,000 for a pilot screening and assessment program to identify incarcerated individuals with substance abuse and/or mental health issues and connect them to treatment in a jurisdiction to be determined by the state court administrator. The bill also directs the Commissioner of Corrections to collect data on the prevalence of co-occurring disorders in jails and prisons throughout the state, and report those findings to the legislature, as well as report about the successes and challenges of the pilot screening and assessment program.

Related Resource: Click here for a link to publications from the Justice Center’s Justice Reinvestment (JR) Project work in Vermont. The JR Project seeks to advance fiscally-sound, data-driven criminal justice policies to break the cycle of recidivism, avert prison expenditures and make communities safer.


  • Senate Bill 6665: Updates the expiration date for the implementation and evaluation of pilot programs that provide intensive case management for individuals with mental illnesses who are involved in the criminal justice system. The bill changes the date by which the Washington state institute for public policy must complete preliminary evaluations of these pilot programs and present their findings to legislature, from June 2008 to June 2010. The bill specifies that program evaluations should highlight efficiency, cost effectiveness, and improved mental health outcomes.

1 The legislative and budgetary efforts summarized in this feature do not necessarily reflect the views of CSG members, and the Justice Center does not promote any as a model. Justice Center staff have not empirically analyzed the effects of the laws described above, or comprehensively reviewed all related state activity in this area. There may be states not identified in this article that engaged in similar activities in 2008 related to the issues discussed above.

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