Washington, D.C. – As part of the House Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan criminal justice reform initiative, today the Committee approved by voice vote the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 (H.R. 1854). This bipartisan, bicameral bill – authored by Congressmen Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) – reauthorizes and updates the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004.
Each year, more than two million people with serious mental illnesses are booked into jails, as well as millions more coping with less serious mental illnesses. In order to better treat those with mental health conditions, the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 promotes public safety and community health by facilitating collaboration among the criminal justice, juvenile justice, mental health treatment, and substance abuse systems to ensure those with mental illness receive the treatment and help they need.
Below are statements from Congressman Doug Collins (R-Ga,), Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) on today’s Committee approval of this legislation.
Congressman Collins: “The Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act is a bipartisan effort to expand on what we already know is working. We can do better with the way we treat the mentally ill in the justice system, rather than treat prisons and jails as psychiatric facilities. More than two million people with mental illness come into contact with a corrections institution each year. This bill takes steps to address that problem and increase public safety, reduce the rate of recidivism, and decrease costs.
“As a Baptist minister, I have seen first-hand the importance of believing in people and in second chances, and I believe this bill creates tools to help mentally ill individuals in the justice system in a more meaningful and productive way. By providing resources to address this plight—such as continuing support for veterans treatment court and mental health courts—we can make communities safer and better help those in need.”
Congressman Scott: “People with mental illness and substance-use disorders are estimated to comprise over half of those in state and federal prisons. We cannot continue to warehouse these individuals. Rather, we need to provide comprehensive research-based interventions at every stage of the criminal justice process to improve treatment and rehabilitation, thereby reducing recidivism and imprisonment. This is why Congressman Doug Collins, Congressman Richard Nugent and I introduced the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act. I appreciate Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers for their leadership and support of our bill and hope it can receive expeditious consideration.”
Chairman Goodlatte: “As we seek to reform our nation’s criminal justice system, it’s important that we improve the way the mentally ill are treated while in jail and the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 does just that. This bill ensures that law enforcement officers are equipped to interact with the mentally ill and also provides those with mental health conditions access to the care and treatment they need. The resources provided in this bill will go a long way towards saving lives, stewarding taxpayer dollars, and enhancing public safety. I thank Congressmen Collins and Scott for their work on this legislation.”
Ranking Member Conyers: “Today, the Committee has taken an important step toward reauthorizing and strengthening the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act, which has enjoyed broad support from both sides of the aisle and a diverse array of interests including law enforcement, the mental health community, and local governments. Because so many of those arrested and incarcerated display symptoms of mental health conditions, it is critical that the criminal justice system appropriately identify offenders suffering from mental illness and provide the services necessary to help them return to productive lives.”
Key Components of H.R. 1854:
Provides much-needed resources to those with mental health conditions: The bill continues support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams, which save lives and money. It also increases focus on corrections-based programs, like transitional services that reduce recidivism rates and screening practices that identify inmates with mental health conditions.
Increases accountability: The bill includes new grant accountability measures and emphasizes the use of evidence-based practices that have been proven effective through empirical evidence.
Helps law enforcement better interact with the mentally ill: The bill supports the development of curricula for police academies and orientations. It also supports the development of programs to train federal law enforcement officers in how to respond appropriately to incidents involving a person with a mental health condition.
Helps veterans suffering from mental health conditions: The bill authorizes investments in veterans treatment courts, which serve arrested veterans who suffer from PTSD, substance addiction, and other mental health conditions.
Empowers state and local efforts: The bill supports 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. It also gives local officials greater control over program participation eligibility.
Learn more about the House Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan criminal justice reform initiative here.