Bipartisan bill could expand some mental health services

Posted at 1:02 PM, Nov 23, 2020

Amid the political gridlock in Washington, it’s one of the rare instances of a bill getting marshaled forward in a bipartisan fashion.

It’s called “The Crisis Stabilization and Community Reentry Act of 2020,” which recently passed the U.S. Senate. At its core, it would help provide mental health services for people in the criminal justice system who don’t usually get it.

“It tries to deal with a fundamental problem we have in this country, that too many people with mental illness end up in jails and prisons,” said Chuck Ingoglia, CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health. “I've had the opportunity to go around the country and to talk to local sheriffs and they understand that people with mental illness don't belong in their facilities, don’t do well in their facilities.”

In fact, from 2006 to 2016, in jails around the country, suicide was the leading single cause of death. Yet, the problem goes beyond prison walls.

It can be a lonely road for inmates after they have served their time and are released back into the community. Part of what the bill hopes to address is what happens with their mental health since many of them report they don’t have health insurance to get their needed medication.

About 80 percent of inmates released lack health insurance, and those that do have it, often wait an average of 48 days to get an appointment at a behavioral clinic.

To fill in that gap, among other things, the bill would allocate $10 million a year for five years towards programs that strengthen the link between law enforcement and community mental health providers.

“Unfortunately, in many places, there is no alternative,” Ingoglia said. “This bill, these new grant programs that it's seeking to create, would try to give more options to communities.”

It’s a bill whose future now lies in the hands of the U.S. House of Representatives.