Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act Passes U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee

NEW YORK—The Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG Justice Center) applauded members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for their overwhelmingly bipartisan vote to approve the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act (JMHCA) of 2013. The bipartisan legislation, introduced by U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.) in late January, builds upon the successes of Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) and supports law enforcement training, mental health and veterans treatment courts, and resources for corrections systems and other collaborative approaches to improve responses to people with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system. The bill now goes to a vote of the full Senate, before moving to the House of Representatives.

Criminal justice experts around the country have been eagerly watching the progress of this critical legislation. Mike Lawlor, Under Secretary of Criminal Justice Policy for Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, says: “Jurisdictions across the country are attempting to address the increasing number of individuals with mental illness coming into contact with the criminal justice system. We applaud this bipartisan vote to manage this complicated public health and safety issue and hope the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act makes it to the President’s desk quickly.”

MIOTCRA was originally signed into law in 2004 and was reauthorized in 2008 with bipartisan support. JMHCA extends specialized law enforcement training and mental health courts through MIOTCRA for an additional 5 years. The legislation also fills critical gaps, including providing additional resources for veterans treatment courts to help veterans suffering from behavioral or post-traumatic stress disorders, providing resources for programs in correctional facilities, allocating resources for communities to better address “high utilizers” of public services, offering broader training during police academies and orientation, and promoting the use of evidence-based practices.

“Last week’s vote sends a strong message that members of both parties are ready to address this critical public health and safety issue. We cannot be satisfied by the status quo in how we address mental illness in this country,” says Judge Steven Leifman, Associate Administrative Judge in the Miami-Dade County Court Criminal Division of Florida. “This legislation will help reverse the criminalization of mental illnesses, help law enforcement officers stay safe when they are responding to mental health crises, and ultimately it will make our communities stronger and safer.”

The legislation has 57 cosponsors in Congress, and has been endorsed by law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, judicial organizations, and veterans groups, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Association of Counties, the National Association of Police Organizations, and the American Legion.