Criminal Justice Issues | Mental Health America

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Criminal Justice Issues

Position Statement 59: Responding to Behavioral Health Crises


People with serious and untreated mental health and substance use conditions often encounter barriers that prevent receiving the right services. The absence of appropriate services causes many harms including mental health and substance use crises. Unfortunately, we do not have appropriate systems in place to respond to mental health and substance use crises. Among the wide-spread problems are:

Position Statement 58: Life Without Parole for Juvenile Offenders

Policy Position

Mental Health America (MHA) opposes sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders. Such sentences are inconsistent with any of the purposes which ordinarily guide sentencing: deterrence, retribution, incapacitation or rehabilitation.

Position Statement 57: In Support of the Insanity Defense


Mental Health America (MHA) supports the ongoing availability of the not guilty by reason of insanity plea (hereinafter, “insanity defense”) and opposes “guilty but insane” laws which preclude the use of the insanity defense.  Specifically, MHA supports the American Law Institute Model Penal Code Standards (described below).  In addition to the legal nuances, a critical issue in the use of the insanity defense is ensuring that individuals whose cases are decided on this basis are hospitalized and provided appropr

Position Statement 53: Mental Health Courts


Mental health courts have been created in numerous jurisdictions across the United States, largely as a response to the increasing number of defendants with serious mental health conditions (“mental illnesses”) who are caught up in the criminal justice system. Mental Health America (MHA):

Position Statement 52: In Support of Maximum Diversion of Persons with Serious Mental Illness from the Criminal Justice System

Statement of Policy

Mental Health America (MHA) supports maximum diversion from the criminal justice system for all persons accused of crimes for whom voluntary mental health or substance use treatment is a reasonable alternative to confinement or other criminal sanctions. MHA urges the utilization of diversion programs at the earliest possible phase of the criminal process, preferably before booking or arraignment. Conversely, MHA supports minimizing the use or threat of use of criminal sanctions to compel mental health treatment.

Position Statement 54: Death Penalty and People with Mental Illnesses

Policy Position

  • Our current system of criminal justice inadequately addresses the complexity of cases involving criminal defendants with mental health conditions. Therefore, Mental Health America (MHA) calls upon states to suspend using the death penalty until more just, accurate and systematic ways of determining guilt and considering a defendant's mental status are developed.

Position Statement 55: Confining Sexual Predators in the Mental Health System


At least seventeen states have passed various versions of what has come to be called "sexual predator" legislation. These laws provide for indefinite involuntary commitment of sex offenders to mental health treatment facilities after they complete prison terms for serious sex offenses.

Position Statement 56: Mental Health Treatment in Correctional Facilities


"Over the past 50 years [America has] gone from institutionalizing people with mental illnesses, often in subhuman conditions, [in state mental health hospitals] to incarcerating them at unprecedented and appalling rates—putting recovery out of reach for millions of Americans….

Position Statement 51: Children With Emotional Disorders In The Juvenile Justice System


Mental Health America (MHA) places a high priority on the care of children and youth (“children”) with behavioral problems reflecting mental, emotional and substance use conditions (“mental health conditions”). Mental health services can both prevent children with mental health conditions from committing offenses that result in juvenile justice scrutiny and from re-offending.

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