The HRW report offered a number of recommendations, with the first addressed to the U.S. Congress urging the passage of the Mentally Ill Offender bill. "If enacted," the report indicated, "the bill could catalyze significant reforms across the country in the way the criminal justice system responds to people with mental illness."Bill Promotes Solutions
The grants awarded under the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2003 to collaborating applicants from mental health and criminal justice would require the proposed programs to provide "individualized, needs-based assessments to determine, plan, and contribute the most appropriate services." The bill elicits proposals that specifically address developmental and learning disabilities and problems arising from a documented history of physical or sexual abuse.
Grants would target programs that specify plans for:
making mental health, or mental health and substance abuse, treatment services available and accessible to [mentally ill] offenders at the time of their release ... [and] ensure ... access to effective and appropriate community-based mental health services.
The bill would also fund programs that facilitate reintegration into the community through housing, education, job placement, mentoring and health care benefits. Up to 3% of the funds allocated in the bill can be used for programs that develop, facilitate or research alternatives to traditional prosecution and sentencing.
The funded programs will be required to assess outcomes, so proposals must specify the data to be gathered and outcome measures applied. Successful programs will receive 80% federal funding for the first two years of the grant, with state or local funding increasing from the initial 20% to 40% in year three, and 75% in years four and five. Criteria for awarding funds include demonstrating "the strongest commitment to ensuring such funds are used to promote both public health and public safety."
Representative Strickland had remarked to the press on introducing the bill in June, "Mental health is one of the last frontiers of personal health to be accepted, understood and widely treated in our society. I hope this legislation will give communities the help they need to provide treatment to those among us who suffer from mental illness."
Metzner commented to Psychiatric Times that passage of the bill would be a "significant step forward in facilitating effective treatment of mental illness in both inmates and those released from incarceration, and in developing mechanisms to divert mentally ill offenders toward treatment."