MINNEAPOLIS - Federal funding for mental health programs in prisons and jails would expand under a bill unveiled Wednesday by Sen. Al Franken.
The Minnesota Democrat's bill would continue federal funding for courts that divert the mentally ill from prison into treatment and increase training for police officers in handling people with mental health issues.
The federal government has funded mental health courts and law enforcement training since 2004, but that training has been limited to specialized units. Franken wants to develop a curriculum to provide some training to "all cops on the beat."
It also would fund treatment courts for veterans, increase mental health screenings and improve transitional services for people leaving prison or jail.
Franken said better mental health care could cut expenses in the nation's criminal justice system and reduce the number of people who re-offend. He's seeking $40 million to fund the programs. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., will sponsor companion legislation in the House.
"It's a huge issue, both in Minnesota and nationally," Franken said. He and others cited federal studies that found more than half of all prison and jail inmates in the United States had a mental health problem.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek estimated nearly one-third of the inmates booked into his county's jails each year suffer from some form of mental illness.
"It's not a medical or treatment environment," Stanek said. "It's become a warehouse for those that suffer from mental illness."