Sen. Franken, Rep. Doug Collins Introduce Bipartisan Measure to Combat Mental Health Crisis in Criminal Justice System

Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) introduced bipartisan legislation to make communities in Minnesota and across the country safer by improving access to mental health services for people in the criminal justice system who need treatment.

By helping the nation’s criminal justice system work with its mental health system, Sen. Franken and Rep. Collins’ bill would help reduce the rates of repeat offenders and improve safety for law enforcement officers. You can download a video of Sen. Franken speaking about the legislation on the Senate floor by clicking here.

“Right now, our criminal justice system is facing a crisis. We’re using jails and prisons as a substitute for a properly functioning mental health system.” said Sen. Franken. “This is a problem—it’s causing overcrowding in our correctional facilities and forcing taxpayers to foot the bill. The bipartisan bill that Rep. Collins and I have introduced will help fix this issue by providing resources to the criminal justice system, crisis intervention teams, and law enforcement to help improve outcomes for people with mental illness. I look forward to working on getting this bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee and across the finish line.”

Rep. Collins, an Air Force reservist and House Judiciary Committee member, commended his Republican and Democratic colleagues for joining the reform. “My own state of Georgia has been a leader in the effort to reduce costs and recidivism, while also increasing public safety,” he said. “I’m especially proud to be a part of a bill that offers U.S. military veterans opportunities to seek treatment outside our country’s jails, poorly equipped to handle disorders resulting from combat.

“Our jails are not mental health facilities. It’s time we stop using them as such—to find ways to treat people and prevent incarceration,” added Collins. “I am pleased to be working with Sen. Franken to better address helping the mentally ill in our criminal justice system.”

Sen. Franken, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been working on the measure since early 2012 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. Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek has estimated that up to 30 percent of inmates in the Hennepin County Jail have mental health issues. TheComprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act would 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;authorizing investments in veterans treatment courts, which serve arrested veterans who suffer from PTSD, substance addiction, and other mental health conditions;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; anddeveloping programs to train federal law enforcement officers in how to respond appropriately to incidents involving a person with a mental health condition.

The main cosponsor of the bill is Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), other cosponsors include Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Similar legislation introduced by Sen. Franken in 2013 cleared a key legislative hurdle when it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee.

More information on the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Actis available here.