Sierra Vista Herald: McSally bill aimed at mental health issues
Legislation sponsored by Congresswoman Martha McSally would fund treatment programs to help people with mental health issues who currently end up in the Cochise County jail.
McSally’s Mental Health and Safe Communities Act passed the House of Representatives last week. The bill now needs to be approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama to become law.
Provisions of the Act may support local efforts already underway that seeks to provide mental health treatment for people who commit minor criminal offenses and end up being housed at the Cochise County Jail.
Last December county Supervisors approved the Step Up program, an initiative aimed at helping non-violent offenders.
“If you look at the population of those who are in jail, as much as 60 percent at any given time can be for these kinds of nonviolent offenses, and maybe 40 percent of those inmates have mental health issues that lead to behavior that puts them in jail,” public defender Mark Suagee told board members.
McSally’s legislation would fund services that are similar to what Cochise County is attempting with its Step Up program. The congresswoman’s Act would set a program for mentally-ill offenders reentering the community, expand assistance to people with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders, and improve training for law enforcement to better identify and respond to instances involving mental illness.
“For too long, our failed mental health care system has left families and communities with nowhere to turn. Today, that changes,” McSally said. “The House-passed legislation includes provisions I sponsored to help communities better respond to mental health crises and provide better treatment options for families and individuals struggling with mental illness.”
Sheriff Mark Dannels said the Step Up program is an attempt to balance how the corrections system handles different kinds of offenders.
“The priority has to be deterrence,” Dannels said.
The Sheriff said he supports McSally’s bill and agrees that additional mental health services are needed in Cochise County. Dannels said the congresswoman joined him on a “ride-along” earlier this year, and he did discuss the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act.
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