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While We Weren't Looking the House Just Passed Criminal Justice Reform

Last night, the House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Cures Act (HR 34) in an overwhelming, bipartisan vote of 392-26. While it may not sound like a criminal justice reform bill (indeed, it was primarily focused on medical innovation and investment) it contained some very important provisions related to criminal justice and law enforcement.

These important criminal justice components didn't happen over night. Congressional champions like Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Senator Al Franken (D-MN), Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA), Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-TX) and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) have been working together for over four years and crafted the bipartisan, science-based policies to improve police-based responses to individuals with mental illness, expand the use of alternatives to incarceration for individuals with substance use disorders and mental illnesses. This bipartisanship is the key ingredient to making progress on complicates issues like criminal justice -- an ingredient many hope other issues can find in the next Congress. The bill also expands training for law enforcement and contains important prisoner reentry provisions.

Here’s a list of 10 things 21st Century CURES does to advance criminal justice:

  1. Reauthorization of the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) – an essential funding mechanism that supports the use of mental health courts and crisis intervention teams in local law enforcement agencies. The bill would extend MIOTCRA, effectively filling critical gaps in the system, including providing additional resources for veterans’ treatment courts to help those suffering from behavioral or post-traumatic stress disorders

  2. Law Enforcement Training – Authorizes resources for police responses to individuals with mental illness and de-escalation training

  3. National Criminal Justice and Mental Health Training Center – Creates a new center to coordinate best practices on responding to individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system and provide technical assistance to governmental agencies

  4. Alternatives to Incarceration Programs – Allows state and local governments to use grant funds on programs to divert individuals with substance abuse disorders, mental illness and co-occurring disorders from prisons and jails

  5. Crisis Intervention Teams – Expands resources available to state and local governments to develop and operate school-based mental health crisis intervention teams that include coordination with law enforcement agencies

  6. Focus on Evidence-Based Research – Requires the Department of Justice to prioritize grant applications to those who use evidence-based interventions and risk assessment tools to reduce recidivism.

  7. Mental Health Response and Corrections Programs – Allows funds from existing federal grant programs to be used in new ways, such as on specialized mental health response training like crisis de-escalation techniques

  8. Active-Shooter Training – Permanently authorizes the VALOR Initiative to provide crisis training and active-shooter training for federal, state and local law enforcement officials.

  9. Reentry and Mental Health - Amends the Second Chance Act to allow state and local governments to use reentry demonstration project grant funds for the provision of mental health treatment and transitional services (including housing) for mentally ill offenders who are reentering the community and provide coordinated transitional services for individuals reentering society with mental illness, substance abuse problems, or a chronic homelessness.

  10. Co-Occurring Disorders - Requires state and local governments to use drug court and mental health court funding to develop specialized programs for offenders who have co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders.

These are important improvements for individuals with behavioral health disorders in the criminal justice system as well as practitioners who need better resources and tools. The Senate is expected to vote on CURES early next week and then it would move to the President's desk for his signature.

For those organization interested in signing on in support of these important criminal justice components, email

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