Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association

Senator Cornyn Introduces Mental Health Bill Focused on Criminal Justice, Guns

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PsyR Connection 2015 Issue 3
October 14, 2015
By: 

Cherilyn Cepriano, CAE, JD, Vice President, Public Policy

Senator Cornyn Introduces Mental Health Bill Focused on Criminal Justice, Guns
PRA Opposes Proposed Expansion of AOT

On August 5, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the “Mental Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015” (S. 2002).  Senator Cornyn’s legislation is focused on the criminal justice and related systems and has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. 

S. 2002 amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to expand grant authority to states and localities from the U.S. Department of Justice for court-ordered Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) programs.  PRA has a long history of strong opposition to the expansion of AOT, as our leaders and members believe strongly that the path to recovery for the overwhelming majority of individuals is paved with their active engagement – and consent. 

While the legislation focuses mostly on the criminal justice system, discussed below, it also highlights the unique challenges for veterans by creating a special grant program to enhance mental health services to veterans, specifically to include peer support services.  PRA has long highlighted the importance of quality mental health services for veterans and, while we will examine this language more closely, supports efforts to enhance their care as well as to continue to promote the inclusion of individuals with lived experience into the framework of the behavioral health delivery. 

With regards to criminal justice, the legislation seeks to improve the interaction between individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues.  For example, S. 2002:

  • Creates a “Sequential Intercept Model” grant program to fund state and local entities to bring criminal justice and mental health experts together to improve collaboration, services, and outcomes for individuals and communities; 
  • Encourages pre-trial assessment of individuals that may facilitate treatment and follow-up care;
  • Requires federal and encourages states to develop mental health courts or similar programs to divert appropriate offenders from prison to treatment facilities and programs; and
  • Funds training to police officers, corrections officers, and others to identify, more effectively engage, or de-escalate crises related to individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues throughout their interaction with the criminal justice system.

Senator Corynyn’s bill also focuses on the attempted acquisition of firearms by those who may have a mental health issue that would legally bar them from acquiring an otherwise legal weapon.  The bill expands and clarifies medical records relating to mental health to be made available to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System used to identify individuals who are prohibited by law from legally purchasing a legal firearm.  The bill also extends “due process” protections to individuals seeking to acquire a firearm by requiring the provision of notice, judicial hearing, and court determination that the individual is a danger to themselves or others prior to denying the right to purchase a legal firearm. 

As of the printing of this article, S. 2002 does not have any co-sponsors in the Senate or a companion bill in the House.  PRA will monitor the legislation and let our members know if we expect action or movement of any kind.