Mental Health Bill Establishes Pilot Program To Help Patients Who Have Committed A Crime
I am very pleased that the Legislature passed last week the final version of House Bill 1089. This Bill establishes a mental health diversion program. The purpose of the bill is to divert deserving mentally ill persons who are charged with criminal offenses into a program designed to deal with mental illness, which is the root cause of their unacceptable conduct.
This Bill authorized the establishment of a pilot program, which would include six circuit court districts in the state of Mississippi. As I requested, this pilot program would include our own 17th Circuit Court District in its coverage. The 17th District includes Tallahatchie and Yalobusha counties.
The bill comes as a result of studies showing that over 15 percent of those currently incarcerated have severe mental illnesses which could be alleviated through mental health treatment. Many states have adopted “mental health diversion” programs. Two years ago, I was privileged to attend a seminar on these programs that have been adopted by other states.
Rebecca Currie, a Republican colleague of mine, and I attended the seminar together representing Mississippi. Subsequent thereto we had a joint amendment that would have provided for mental health courts. The House overwhelmingly passed our amendment, but it died in the Senate. This year I am pleased that we were able to get this program adopted which will serve approximately one-fourth of our state’s population.
In states that have adopted these programs, those that are allowed to participate are strictly monitored by the court system, similar to our current drug courts which are in effect in every county of the state. Participants would be required to participate actively in mental health treatment.
Mental illness affects hundreds of thousands of Mississippians and has touched nearly every family in our state. I think it is only fitting that those suffering from a mental illness would be given the same opportunity that those who have had addiction issues have had with the drug court, so that they can have the chance to become productive and contributing members of society.
One way to address our current budget crisis in this state would be to reduce the $315 million plus budget for imprisoned inmates and a cost-efficient way could be the implementation of these mental health diversion programs.
If I can be of assistance in any way, please call on me. My local office telephone number is 662-647-3203 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. My mailing address is 1720 North Main St., Water Valley, MS, 38965.