DOJ Working to Address Mental Illness in Criminal Courts

Department of Justice Hopes to Ease Strain on Criminal Court

There is a long history of tenuous relations between the courts of the criminal justice system and the mental health community. And rightly so. After all, the number of mentally ill people behind bars in the Unites States is unprecedented and continues to grow. People with mental illnesses who commit crimes as symptoms of untreated, unmanaged mental illnesses do not “get better” simply because they are thrown in jail. In fact, the reverse is often true. The mentally ill often become worse when the jails and prisons are used as warehouses for them without addressing their underlying problems.


That’s why the U.S. Department of Justice is stepping up to the plate with a new pilot program they are launching this summer in the hopes of addressing the growing problem. According to Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates, the federal government is committed to addressing the strain that the mental health crisis is putting on the criminal justice system in a positive, proactive way.


At a recent summit on mental health held in Washington, Yates made a statement about the struggle faced by those enmeshed in the criminal justice system who battle mental illnesses. “Requiring our strained criminal justice system to do double duty as front-line mental health facilities is not only inefficient, it is totally inconsistent with our values and who we are as a country. This is not the treatment our fellow citizens deserve.”


One of the ways in which the Department of Justice (DoJ) hopes to address some of the problems, is by encouraging better interactions between police departments and those struggling with mental illnesses. In addition, they are hoping to work toward better mental health treatment for suspects in and out of prison, who are struggling with mental health issues.


Another solution proposed by the Justice department is a greater use of mental health courts. Given the incredible success that we here in Michigan have seen with our Sobriety Courts, Veteran’s Courts and Mental Health Courts, this makes perfect sense. Embracing that Michigan model would divert a number of Federal suspects to treatment instead of prison, where their chances of receiving the help they need is minimal at best.


The Bureau of Justice Assistance has awarded over $80 million in grants over the last 12 years in support of substance abuse and mental health treatment. However, it is now in the process of developing a curriculum that would empower police forces to create and train specialized crisis intervention teams. These teams would be responsible for responding to dangerous situations involving individuals with possible mental health concerns and de-escalating them as effectively as possible. In this way, lives could be saved, millions of dollars can be saved and catastrophes can be averted.


The program will launch this summer in certain locations around the country, and depending upon the success rate, it will likely continue to grow. As Michigan criminal defense attorneys who have seen a number of mentally ill people incarcerated over the years who needed help far more than they needed bars, this is very good news for us.


Back to
Top ▲
Aggressive Criminal Defense