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Congress briefed on law enforcement and mental health collaboration

December 5, 2011
by News release
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Washington, D.C. — The Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Council of State Governments Justice Center have identified police departments in six cities as national models leading the way in identifying safe and effective responses to people with mental illnesses. In November, representatives from these law enforcement/mental health “learning sites” in the Houston (TX), Salt Lake City (UT), and Madison (WI) police departments visited Capitol Hill to brief key congressional leaders on the progress they have made.

The six law enforcement/mental health learning sites collectively reflect the range of strategies a law enforcement agency might consider when developing a collaborative initiative to address the needs of individuals with mental illnesses in their community. As centers of peer-to-peer learning and support, learning site personnel are committed to providing guidance to agencies in other jurisdictions that are interested in creating or expanding their own specialized policing responses. To learn more about the learning sites program, click here.

Officer Ron Bruno from the Salt Lake City Police Department, Officer Rebecca Skillern from the Houston Police Department, and Lieutenant Kristen Roman from the Madison Police Department discussed with legislators the critical role that law enforcement officers play in responding to people with mental illnesses. As first responders, officers are the first point of contact for people with mental illnesses who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

The six national learning sites are made possible by the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA). Signed into law in 2004 with overwhelming bipartisan support, MIOTCRA created the

Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP), which supports states and counties that are designing and implementing collaborative efforts between criminal justice and mental health systems.

The program was created to address the overrepresentation of serious mental illnesses among jail and prison populations, which can range as high as 14.5 percent for men and 31 percent for women. State and local governments use JMHCP grants to design criminal justice systems better able to respond to people with a mental illness.