Mental health grant offers alternative to incarceration

by Government Relations Staff

October 23, 2008 — The federal government has reauthorized an important grant program strongly supported by the American Psychological Association Practice Organization (APAPO) to improve mental health services to nonviolent offenders.

On October 14, President Bush reauthorized The Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) from fiscal year 2009 through 2013 at $50 million per year. The Act, first passed in 2004, authorizes federal grant money to help states and local communities fund collaborative efforts between the criminal justice, mental health and juvenile justice systems aimed at reducing the criminalization of people with mental disorders.

These efforts include:

  • mental health courts, which link nonviolent mentally ill offenders with support services, treatment, employment and housing

  • jail diversion, alternative prosecution, and sentencing programs

  • treatment for incarcerated individuals with mental disorders

  • community reentry services

  • cross-training of criminal justice, juvenile justice and mental health personnel.

The Act also authorizes new grants to train law enforcement personnel to respond to incidents involving mentally ill individuals and requires the U.S. Justice Department to report on the rate of serious mental illness among those in custody or on parole.

According to a 2006 report by the Federal Bureau of Justice, an estimated 1.25 million inmates suffer from mental disorders. In 2003, the president's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health found that mentally ill offenders frequently do not receive appropriate mental health services in jail or upon discharge and suffer a high recidivism rate.

Key advocacy from APAPO and psychologists

MIOTCRA has been one of the APAPO's key legislative priorities for several years. The APAPO has partnered with the Campaign for Mental Health Reform, a coalition of 17 mental health organizations including the American Psychological Association (APA), as well as the Council of State Governments to advocate for the legislation's passage and funding.

Over the years, practitioners have provided critical grassroots support, with APA Practice Organization Federal Advocacy Coordinators mobilizing hundreds of psychologists in select districts to weigh in with key Senate and House committee members during important stages of the legislative and appropriations process.

During the 2008 APAPO State Leadership Conference in Washington in March, hundreds of psychologists met with their representatives and staff on Capitol Hill to ask for funding and support for the program.

Getting involved in your home state

MIOTCRA funds planning and implementation grants, which require collaboration between mental health service providers and local correctional departments. All applications will need to demonstrate that collaboration to be considered for a grant.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance website provides information on the program and resources for grantees. Those psychologists interested in providing services to planned or established mental health courts should contact their state department of justice or corrections for more information.