SuperTalk Mississippi

Pilot mental health programs could aid criminal justice system

Senate Bill 2842 has passed the Senate floor and is now waiting to head to the House where Representatives will discuss potential pilot mental health diversion programs.

The bill is being referred to as “Mississippi Mental Health Diversion Program Act.” It would establish an advisory committee that would provide certain mental health intervention in response to the needs of defendants with mental illness.

“Individuals that present themselves in court, and it is determined by the judge that there is a mental illness involved, they’ll have the ability to refer them to the mental health diversion program,” said Senator Jeniffer Branning, one of the authors of the bill.

The goals of these pilot programs would include:

  • Reduce the number of future criminal justice contacts among offenders with mental illness.
  • Reducing the inappropriate institutionalization of people with mental illness.
  • Improve the mental health and well being of defendants who come in contact with the criminal justice system.
  • Improve linkages between the criminal justice system and the mental health system
  • Expedite case processing
  • Protect public safety
  • Establish links with other state and local agencies and programs.
  • Use corrections and resources more effectively by redirecting prison-bound offenders whose criminal conduct is driven in part by mental illnesses.

Branning said the purpose of starting with a pilot program is so that they can assess what needs to happen and if it’s working, then go statewide with a larger project.

The best part, it won’t cost the taxpayer anything. No state funding is required for these pilot programs. All funding is coming from federal grant money.

“It gives our criminal justice system another alternative,” said Branning.

She said that currently Mississippi correctional facilities are treating around 3,000 people for mental illnesses while incarcerated and they’re simply not capable of doing that.

“They do what they can with what they have, but this provides another alternative,” said Branning.

The bill is set to appear before the House.

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