SJR 440

Joint Committee Studying Treatment Options for Offenders with Mental Illness or Substance Abuse Disorders

May 3, 2001, Richmond

Senate Joint Resolution 440, agreed to by the 2001 Session of the General Assembly, directed the Joint Commission on Behavioral Health Care, in conjunction with the Virginia State Crime Commission and the Virginia Commission on Youth, to study treatment options for persons involved in the criminal justice system who have mental illness or substance abuse disorders. Each of the commissions appointed members to serve on the study committee. In addition, a work group comprised of consumers, providers, defense attorneys, law enforcement personnel, and criminal justice agency representatives and other experts will help identify issues, assist with data collection, and recommend solutions for consideration by the study committee.

The committee's review will include the (i) incidence of mental illness and substance abuse among offenders; (ii) current system for delivering mental health and substance abuse services, including assessment, treatment, post-release, and follow-up; (iii) model treatment programs for offenders; (iv) costs and benefits of private versus public delivery of treatment services; (v) need for specialized training of local law enforcement and court personnel; and (vi) funding, sources of funding and legislation required to ensure adequate assessment and treatment services.

Staff Report

Staff presented background material from national and state studies related to the prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse disorders in the criminal justice population, indicators of the problems that create gaps in services, and model programs for the treatment of adult and juvenile offenders. To prepare for in-depth discussions at future meetings, the staff outlined the adult criminal justice system from arrest to post trial and sentencing and described the mental health and substance abuse services available to persons who are under the supervision of the Department of Corrections (DOC). Staff also described Virginia's juvenile justice system from arrest to disposition and informed the committee about certain demographics related to juveniles in detention homes and state juvenile facilities.

Public Hearing

A public hearing followed the general meeting at which 15 people either spoke or submitted written testimony:

  • A parent emphasized that the problems associated with the stigma and treatment of mental illness and substance abuse affect many families in Virginia and urged the committee to examine the issues and reshape public policy to provide solutions.
  • A representative of the Coalition for the Mentally Disabled Citizens of Virginia urged the study committee to hold a full public discussion, including the opportunity for consumers and advocates to take a significant part.
  • The Virginia Municipal League cited the shortage of substance abuse services in local jails and mental health services in detention homes.
  • A representative of the Charlottesville/Albemarle Regional Jail spoke about positive results of the therapeutic community in the jail.
  • Dealing with mental health problems is the most serious child care issue in the detention homes, according to a spokesperson for the Middle Peninsula Juvenile Detention Center (18 localities). On any given day, 35 to 40 percent of the residents are taking medication for mental health problems. Approximately 12 youths per year require emergency hospitalization, but beds are often difficult to find. When the youths are returned to detention, they will frequently have medications but follow-up or case management, monitoring and counseling are not available. More training and interaction with mental health professionals is needed to help the detention home staff who deal with these youths on a day-to-day basis. Funds have not been available to provide in-house mental health staff and on-site services, such as assessment and counseling. Recidivism and referrals to state juvenile facilities could be reduced with better local services.
  • A consumer advocate described the need for more staff in local jails to provide services to individuals with mental illness and substance abuse disorders.
  • The mother of an inmate with mental illness related her personal experiences with trying to get help for her son.
  • Two members of Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance described their experiences with local jails and their difficulty with obtaining identification of and services for co-occurring disorders, mental illness and substance abuse.
  • A representative of the Highlands Juvenile Detention Center cited the need for in-house mental health staff.
  • Staff from the Action Alliance for Virginia's Children and Youth emphasized the need for services in the community to prevent offenses from occurring in the first place. The staff also noted that Medicaid is not available to youths in detention centers.
  • The jail services manager for District 19 Community Services Board noted that a waiting list exists for the therapeutic communities in local jails.
  • A staff member of the Hampton/Newport News Community Services Board cited the limitations on psychiatric services. The general population must wait two to three months for an appointment with a psychiatrist, making services to detention homes and the travel time involved almost impossible. In response to a question, she said that a combination of factors (turf, personalities, resources, etc.) determines whether cooperation between jails and community services boards works in some localities and not others.

The Honorable Stephen H. Martin, Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Nancy L. Roberts


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