The U.S. House of Representatives has approved funding to give crisis-intervention training to police on de-escalating violent confrontations with people who have behavioral-health problems and to fund “mental health courts” that seek to provide psychiatric care instead of imprisonment.
Violent confrontations ending with mentally ill persons being shot, wounded and sometimes killed have both law enforcement and healthcare professionals seeking answers.
The U.S. Supreme Court (PDF) recently heard a case involving a schizophrenic woman in San Francisco who was shot after threatening officers with a kitchen knife. Justices ruled that officers did not violate the woman's Fourth Amendment rights and had immunity from a lawsuit on those grounds. But they left it up to a lower court to rule on the question of whether officers provided reasonable accommodation to her disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The House approved the $2 million appropriation Tuesday by a 417-10 vote as part of an amendment to the $51 billion appropriation for the Commerce and Justice departments and several science agencies. The money will be available through block grants under the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (PDF).
The bipartisan amendment was sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) and Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), who noted that the Mental Health Court of Allengheny County (Pa.) has helped lower the recidivism rate of behavioral-health patients in the justice system by 37.7%.
“The mentally ill are 10 times more likely to end up in prison than in psychiatric care. Mental health courts are a meaningful alternative to incarcerating those with serious mental illness and have a proven track record of success across the country,” Murphy said in a news release. “By delivering a pathway to psychiatric care through collaboration between the mental health and criminal justice systems, mental health courts meet public safety and community restitution objectives with better outcomes than the traditional courtroom setting for those with serious mental illness that, for too long, have cycled in and out of court and jail.”
Lujan Grisham said that resources and training will help resolve crises more peacefully, which could strengthen trust between police and the public.
Murphy, a psychologist who spent more than a year holding hearings on mental illness after the Sandy Hook shootings, spoke at the Mental Health America annual conference Thursday morning in Alexandria, Va., where he talked about the new version of his Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (PDF), which he introduced Thursday afternoon.
The updated bill promotes telepsychiatry, requires evidence-based standards for mental health spending and encourages electronic medical-record sharing between primary-care doctors and mental health providers.
The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), who formerly was chief psychiatric nurse at the Dallas VA Medical Center.