Legislation – S.2123 – Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015

S.2123 – Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015
People of color comprise more than 60 percent of the population behind bars despite making up only approximately 39.9 percent of the U.S. population. Policymakers act to end mass incarceration and overcriminalization—particularly with regard to how they affect poor communities and communities of color—by creating an equitable and balanced justice system that removes unnecessary barriers to opportunity for people with criminal records. Congress is now moving to address some of these issues. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, also known as the Sentencing Reform Act. The bipartisan Sentencing Reform Act includes several key recommendations proposed by the Center for American Progress, including improving the accuracy of criminal history records and sealing or expunging juvenile records under certain circumstances. The bill takes a number of steps to end the unnecessarily harsh penalties and outcomes that characterized the now-discredited policies of the tough-on-crime era. These measures include:

  • Expanding the existing safety valve and giving judges additional discretion to relieve significant numbers of people from unnecessarily harsh mandatory minimum sentences
  • Making the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive, thereby making the reductions in the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine—disparities that have a disproportionate racial impact—available for thousands of current federal prisoners
  • Providing sentence reductions and early releases for prisoners who successfully complete rehabilitation programs
  • Limiting the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal custody
  • Providing for the sealing or expungement of juvenile criminal records under certain circumstances, which would help create opportunities for young people to overcome or avoid many of the barriers that confront those with criminal records, including barriers to employment, housing, and education
  • Requiring the attorney general to develop a process for individuals who are undergoing employment criminal background checks to challenge the accuracy of their federal criminal records, which would help to address the well-documented problem of errant criminal records databases

Legislation – S.993/H.R.1854 – Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 – passed Senate

S.993/H.R.1854 – Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 – passed Senate, currently Referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations (House). Introduced by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) – primarily reauthorizes and improves the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) of 2004. The legislation would also:

  • Continue support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams;
  • Expand services to veterans that include treatment court programs, peer to peer services, appropriate services to veterans who have been incarcerated, and training programs for criminal justice, law enforcement and corrections personnel to identify and respond to incidents involving veterans with a mental health condition;
  • Make grants to provide broader training during police academies and orientation that teach law enforcement personnel how to identify and respond to incidents involving persons with mental health disorders;
  • Would create programs that offer federal first responders and tactical units comprehensive training in procedures to identify and respond appropriately to incidents involving mentally ill individuals;
  • Increases focus on prison and jail-based programs;
  • Gives local officials greater control over program participation eligibility; and
  • Requires annual audits of all grant recipients to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of funds by grantees.

The legislation extends the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act , including support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams; supports efforts to identify people with mental health conditions at each point in the criminal justice system and direct them to appropriate mental health services; specifically directs assistance to veterans with mental health conditions in the justice system; and increases focus on corrections-based programs and supports additional training for law enforcement officials. APA endorses S.993.

Legislation – HR 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015, House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee passed

HR 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015, House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee passed.

Positives of legislation:

  • Screening and early intervention;
  • Community-based systems of care;
  • Enhancing the behavioral health workforce;
  • Innovation to develop new evidence-based programs;
  • Integration of health and behavioral health care;
  • Enforcement of parity in coverage between health and behavioral health services;
  • Incentives for Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) rather than mandates;
  • Elevation of behavioral health in the federal government, including increased coordination of services; and
  • Suicide prevention based on the Garrett Lee Smith Act Reauthorization.


Additions needed

  • Provisions that best support the development of a properly-credentialed peer workforce that can work competitively in clinical settings;
  • Preservation of Protection and Advocacy organizations’ flexibility to promote recovery and non-discrimination for individuals with serious mental illness, not only to prevent abuse and neglect;
  • Funding for community mental health programs with money taken from the jail and prison system, not from other health services; and
  • Assurance that individuals with serious mental illness will be able to voluntarily access to the services associated with AOT, and that community-based services will be adequately funded.

American Psychiatric Association (APA), Mental Health America (MHA) endorse HR 2646.

Medicaid Expansion Shifts Focus to Improve Re-Entry and Community Transitions

Medicaid Expansion Shifts Focus to Improve Re-Entry and Community Transitions – Erick Allen Eiting

Mass incarceration has had a significant impact on urban America. Los Angeles County and New York City represent the largest municipalities in the country, and they also have some of the highest incarceration rates. Both New York and Los Angeles have taken recent steps to improve the health and healthcare provided to their inmates. Rikers Island in New York had previously contracted out its correctional healthcare to a private company. Last spring, Mayor Bill de Blasio shifted this care to Health and Hospital, the network of public hospitals and clinics in New York City. Similarly, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to move correctional care to its Department of Health Services, a similar healthcare network that provides public medical care.

Several provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often referred to as Obamacare, were major drivers in these decisions. The Medicaid expansion under the ACA includes several provisions that make it easier for inmates to qualify for insurance while they are incarcerated. This has shifted the focus of many providers to improving the re-entry process to society for released inmates, reducing recidivism and addressing the social determinants of healthcare for these patients. All eyes will be on these two large, urban areas to see the impact of this expansion. Medicaid coverage is only the first step. Inmates will need appropriate community transitions and treatment options to ensure access to housing, substance abuse treatment and mental health care to have a significant impact on mass incarceration. PfCJR salutes these two cities for their progressive, patient-focused approach to this issue.

Expedited Medicaid Access Increases Use of Mental Health Services, Unfortunately Did Not Reduce Recidivism for Those Recently Released from Prison

Expedited Medicaid Access Increases Use of Mental Health Services, Unfortunately Did Not Reduce Recidivism for Those Recently Released from Prison – Kristin Huntoon

Providing expedited access to Medicaid to people with serious mental illness as they are released from prison increases their use of mental health and general medical services, but does not reduce criminal recidivism, according to new research published online today in Psychiatric Services in Advance.

People with serious mental illness depend on public-sector mental health services and are covered primarily by Medicaid. Most states suspend or terminate Medicaid for prison inmates. At any given point, an estimated 250,000 people with severe mental illness are in prisons, and more than a million others are on probation or parole in the U.S. Many have difficulty accessing mental health services and other services when they leave these institutions. Lack of health insurance can be a particular barrier to access.

The study used data from Washington state to look at whether enrolling people with severe mental illness in Medicaid before their release from prison increased their use of community mental health services and reduced rearrest and reincarceration rates. State and local programs that expedite Medicaid enrollment for people being released from jails and prisons have become more common in recent years as part of efforts to reduce soaring criminal justice costs.