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The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has named the Council of State Governments (CSG), coordinator of the Criminal Justice / Mental Health Consensus Project, as the technical assistance provider for the BJA Mental Health Courts Grant Program.
The Co-Chairs of the Consensus Project, Senator Robert Thompson (R-PA) and Rep.Mike Lawlor (D-CT), welcomed the opportunity for CSG's involvement in the BJA Program. Sen. Thompson, who chairs his State’s Appropriations Committee, said: "From the beginning, the goal of the Consensus Project has been to help jurisdictions better respond to people with mental illness in the justice system, and mental health courts are one of the approaches being tested around the country." Rep. Lawlor, Co-Chair of the Connecticut Joint Judiciary Committee, added that "BJA, now in conjunction with the Consensus Project, is leading the way toward the thoughtful development of mental health courts."
As technical assistance provider, CSG will coordinate a meeting of all grantees and facilitate on-site and off-site technical assistance to the grantee courts. CSG will also develop a Web site dedicated to mental health courts and coordinate the development of written products, which will be widely disseminated.
The Mental Health Courts Program was created by "America's Law Enforcement and Mental Health Project Act," legislation that U.S. Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Congressman Ted Strickland (D-OH) sponsored in the year 2000.
The structure of mental health courts varies widely among jurisdictions, making it difficult to define a mental health court or to identify a mental health court model.
Through this program, BJA has sought to fund projects that allow participants to voluntarily accept judicially supervised treatment plans in lieu of traditional criminal justice processing, for a period of time not to exceed the maximum allowable sentence for the charged offense. 23 jurisdictions received grants in Fiscal Year 2002; the FY 2003 grantees will be announced shortly, and are expected to number approximately 10.
Leading mental health advocates and practitioners also voiced their support of BJA’s announcement. "The Consensus Project is ideally equipped to ensure that mental health courts are part of broader community efforts to connect people with mental illness to needed services and supports," said Ron Honberg, Director of Legal Affairs at NAMI, a partner on the Consensus Project.
Hon. Kevin Fitzwater, Chief Judge of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court who also oversees a mental health court in his jurisdiction, added his praise of BJA’s selection, noting that "the Consensus Project has been a leader on issues at the intersection of criminal justice and mental health and will provide valuable support to the BJA grantees and the field at large."
In its new role, CSG will work closely with the Technical Assistance and Policy Analysis (TAPA) Center for Jail Diversion, a branch of the National GAINS Center for People with Co-Occurring Disorders in the Justice System. The TAPA Center provides technical assistance as part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s Targeted Capacity Expansion Grant Program.
More information about BJA's Mental Health Courts Grant Program is available at: www.bja.gov.
CSG, in conjunction with the TAPA Center, the National GAINS Center, and NAMI, have already compiled a survey of all known mental health courts in the country (more than 70).
To track the progress of BJA's Mental Health Courts Program, visit www.consensusproject.org, where updates will be posted. An entire section of the site dedicated to mental health courts will be launched in early January 2004. The Consensus Project is coordinated by the Criminal Justice Program of CSG's Eastern Regional Conference (www.csg-erc.org).
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text "NAMI" to 741741