Sen. Franken’s Bipartisan Measure to Combat Mental Health Crisis in Criminal Justice System Clears Senate, is One Step Closer to Becoming Law

Senator’s Comprehensive Legislation Passes in Full Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. [12/10/15]—Today, the Senate approved U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) bipartisan legislation to make our communities safer by improving access to mental health services for people in the criminal justice system who need treatment.

Earlier this year, Sen. Franken introduced his Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act, which would help reduce the rates of repeat offenders and improve safety for law enforcement officers. The bill cleared the full Senate today, and now needs to pass in the House of Representatives before becoming law.

“Our criminal justice system is broken—it doesn’t help treat people who have mental illnesses, and it doesn’t protect the safety of law enforcement personnel,” said Sen. Franken. “The United States 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 justice system as a substitute for a fully functioning mental health system. That’s a huge problem, and my Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act would help fix it.

“I’ve been working for years on this bill, and I’m very pleased to say that we just took a huge step towards reforming how our criminal justice system treats mental illness. My bill bolsters federal support for mental health services—including special support for veterans who need help—and provides critical training to law enforcement.

“Now that my legislation has cleared the Senate, I’m going to fight to get it passed in the House of Representatives and signed into law. It’s too important to continue ignoring this crisis.”

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 and help them better deal with the increasingly prevalent mental health issues they encounter. He’s held meetings 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 Comprehensive 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; 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.