Diane Kincaid
Program Manager
Phone:(859) 244-8196
Justice System’s Response to Individuals with Mental Illness
Enacted: Aug 2003

WHEREAS, although approximately 5 percent of the U.S population has a serious mental illness, a report issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1999 found that about 16 percent of the state prison and local jail inmate population has a mental illness. Juveniles involved in the justice system have similarly high representation of mental health issues;

WHEREAS, many of the individuals with mental illness in contact with the criminal and juvenile justice systems are clients of the mental health system who have failed to gain access to effective mental health treatment;

WHEREAS, criminal and juvenile justice professionals agree that they have inherited a problem of enormous scope and complexity, and their system’s current response to people with mental illness often fails the person who suffers from mental illness and his or her loved ones;

WHEREAS, elected officials need to have constructive options available to make thoughtful policy decisions, especially in the wake of well-publicized tragedies involving individuals with mental illness who fluctuate between the court systems, juvenile detention, local jails, state prison, and psychiatric hospitals;

WHEREAS, law enforcement officials in urban and rural jurisdictions alike are concerned about the increasing percentage of public safety resources allocated to calls for assistance involving persons with mental illness;

WHEREAS, court officials, already overwhelmed by crowded dockets, struggle to respond appropriately to defendants and juveniles with mental illness, who often cycle through the courts repeatedly, requiring court time while providing minimal assistance with their mental illness;

WHEREAS, the growing number of adults and juveniles with mental illness involved with the justice system, and the lack of appropriate resources in jail, prison and detention to screen, assess and treat these individuals, weaken staff morale, jeopardize the safety of staff and detained individuals alike, and exacerbate jail, prison and detention overcrowding and the cost of operating corrections systems;

WHEREAS, despite the strong connection the public assumes between mental disorder and violence, the results of several large-scale research projects conclude that only a weak statistical association between mental disorder and violence exists, and that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime than people in the general population;

WHEREAS, representatives of the American Probation and Parole Association have been part of the Criminal Justice / Mental Health Consensus Project, a national effort led by the Council of State Governments, together with the Police Executive Research Forum, the Pretrial Services Resource Center, the Association of State Correctional Administrators, and the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, to bring together police chiefs, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, institutional and community corrections administrators, mental health state agency directors, mental health treatment providers, victim advocates, mental health advocates, consumers, clinicians, and Republican and Democratic state legislators from across the country;

WHEREAS, the 100 policymakers and practitioners serving on advisory boards to the Consensus Project developed 46 policy statements and hundreds of recommendations -- a bipartisan consensus identifying steps that state and local government officials can take to improve the response to people with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal justice system;

WHEREAS, the Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project specifically addresses concerns with the criminal justice system, this resolution recognizes and is inclusive of the juvenile justice system and juveniles with mental illness who, if served adequately by the mental health systems, may avoid further involvement with the justice systems;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the American Probation and Parole Association urges its members to improve the response to people with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal or juvenile justice systems by developing and promoting programs, policies, and legislation that accomplish the following goals:

  • Improve collaboration among stakeholders in the justice and mental health systems;
  • Integrate mental health and substance abuse services to address the needs of individuals in contact with the justice systems who have co-occurring substance abuse/dependence and mental health disorders;
  • Develop designated responses by law enforcement, courts, corrections, and community corrections agencies, and provide the necessary training to these justice system personnel to familiarize them with mental illness and the mental health system;
  • Focus the efforts of the mental health system more directly on this population, and provide the mental health system with the resources and training concerning the justice systems to do so effectively;
  • Recognize the extent to which the success of an initiative that seeks to divert someone with mental illness from the justice systems into community-based programs depends on an effective and accessible mental health system;
  • Measure the cost-effectiveness and the impact on individuals with mental illness of any new initiatives that criminal and juvenile justice or mental health agencies develop to improve their response to this population;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Probation and Parole Association recommends that Congress and officials from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) work with state and local government officials across ideological and partisan lines to accomplish the following:

  • Assist states and local government officials interested in developing local solutions to the complex problem of people with mental illness in contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems;
  • Increase the flexibility of existing DOJ and HHS grant programs to enable states to use these funds for efforts that target people with mental illness and people with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders who are in contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems;
  • Collect information and improve research regarding individuals with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal and juvenile justice system; and
  • Facilitate partnerships between criminal/juvenile justice and mental health agencies and organizations.