Judiciary Committee approves bills to reform the criminal justice system

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File) (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

WSLS Staff – WASHINGTON D.C. (WSLS 10) - The House Judiciary Committee approved several bills aiming to reform the criminal justice system.

The committee says the bi-partisan bills punish offenders, while also showing fairness and compassion.

Two such bills are the 'Second Chance Reauthorization Act' and the 'Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015.'

The 'Second Chance Reauthorization Act' helps inmates reintegrate to society by giving them access to academic and vocational education while serving their sentence.

The 'Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015' makes sure mentally ill inmates receive the treatment they need.

The full releases are below:

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – As part of the House Judiciary Committee's bipartisan criminal justice reform initiative, today the Committee approved by voice vote the Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 3406), a bill that helps prisoners who have completed their sentences successfully return to society, thereby enhancing public safety. This legislation, authored by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Congressman Danny Davis (D-Ill.), builds on the success of the original Second Chance Act of 2008 and continues to authorize funding for both public and private entities to evaluate and improve reentry programming, including academic and vocational education for offenders in prison, jails and juvenile facilities. This legislation also includes important accountability measures and eliminates programs that have not been used.

Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, released the following statement on today's approval:

"The Second Chance Reauthorization Act is a critical component of prison and reentry reform. Statistics show that more than 90% of federal prisoners will eventually be released. We must enact polices that enhance public safety by helping prisoners successfully reintegrate into society and restore their lives. By streamlining and strengthening Second Chance grants, we will help the many men, women, and youth leaving prison successfully return home so that they can be contributing members of our communities rather than repeat offenders. I thank Crime Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner for his work on this important legislation that will make our streets safer."

Background: Congress passed the Second Chance Act with strong bipartisan support and President George W. Bush signed it into law in 2008. This legislation provides grant funding to public and private entities, including non-profit faith and community-based organizations, to develop support programs such as drug treatment, housing, job training, medical care, and education.

More than 100,000 men, women, and youth returning home from prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities have benefited from Second Chance grants providing career training, mentoring, family-based substance abuse treatment, and other evidence-based reentry programs.  Additionally, a report from the National Reentry Resource Center highlights how numerous states have experienced drastic reductions in statewide recidivism rates as a result of robust reentry services made possible in part through Second Chance Act funding.

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – As part of the House Judiciary Committee's bipartisan criminal justice reform initiative, today the Committee approved by voice vote the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 (H.R. 1854). This bipartisan, bicameral bill – authored by Congressmen Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) – reauthorizes and updates the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004.

Each year, more than two million people with serious mental illnesses are booked into jails, as well as millions more coping with less serious mental illnesses. In order to better treat those with mental health conditions, the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 promotes public safety and community health by facilitating collaboration among the criminal justice, juvenile justice, mental health treatment, and substance abuse systems to ensure those with mental illness receive the treatment and help they need.

Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, released the following statement: "As we seek to reform our nation's criminal justice system, it's important that we improve the way the mentally ill are treated while in jail and the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 does just that. This bill ensures that law enforcement officers are equipped to interact with the mentally ill and also provides those with mental health conditions access to the care and treatment they need.  The resources provided in this bill will go a long way towards saving lives, stewarding taxpayer dollars, and enhancing public safety. I thank Congressmen Collins and Scott for their work on this legislation."

Key Components of H.R. 1854:

 Provides much-needed resources to those with mental health conditions: The bill continues support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams, which save lives and money. It also increases focus on corrections-based programs, like transitional services that reduce recidivism rates and screening practices that identify inmates with mental health conditions.

Increases accountability: The bill includes new grant accountability measures and emphasizes the use of evidence-based practices that have been proven effective through empirical evidence.

Helps law enforcement better interact with the mentally ill: The bill supports the development of curricula for police academies and orientations. It also supports the development of programs to train federal law enforcement officers in how to respond appropriately to incidents involving a person with a mental health condition.

Helps veterans suffering from mental health conditions: The bill authorizes investments in veterans treatment courts, which serve arrested veterans who suffer from PTSD, substance addiction, and other mental health conditions.

Empowers state and local efforts: The bill supports state and local efforts to identify people with mental health conditions at each point in the criminal justice system in order to appropriately direct them to mental health services. It also gives local officials greater control over program participation eligibility.

Learn more about the House Judiciary Committee's bipartisan criminal justice reform initiative here.