November 16, 2023

Warren Joins Congresswoman Porter in Reintroducing Bill to Reduce Violence Against Individuals with Mental Illness and Disabilities

This legislation would empower state and local governments to create mental health first responder units.

Bill text (PDF)

Washington, D.C. — Today, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), and Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Penn.), along with 23 Representatives reintroduced legislation to reduce violence against individuals with mental illness and disabilities. The Mental Health Justice Act would make it easier for state and local governments to send trained mental health professionals instead of police when 911 or 988 is called because an individual is experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis. 

“I’m glad to reintroduce the Mental Health Justice Act to make it easier for trained mental health professionals to respond to a mental health or substance use crisis," said Senator Warren. "Safety should mean taking care of people in our communities who face mental health issues, not criminalizing them or leaving them to a police system that is not equipped to provide the care they need.”

“Mental illness is not a crime, and it’s time we stop treating it as one,” said Representative Porter. “Having the right type of responders for mental health emergencies will make our communities safer, reduce the strain on our criminal justice system, and stop distracting law enforcement from what Americans need them to do—fight crime. I’m proud to work with colleagues from across the aisle to reintroduce the Mental Health Justice Act and deliver care to people in crisis.”

The Mental Health Justice Act would create a grant program to pay for hiring, training, salary, benefits, and additional expenses for mental health provider first responder units. Grant recipients will receive technical assistance from experts through the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). States and localities that choose to use their own funding for program costs would also be able to apply for access to this expertise.

The Treatment Advocacy Center estimates that 1 in 4 fatal police encounters involve someone with a severe mental illness, making the risk of death 16 times greater for these individuals than for others approached or stopped by law enforcement. Those who are arrested are often charged with minor, nonviolent offenses. As a result, jail and prison systems are overcrowded with thousands of individuals who would be far better served by other community resources.

The bill is cosponsored in the Senate by Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.).

The bill is cosponsored in the House of Representatives by Representatives Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Sean Casten (D-Ill.), Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Grace Napolitano (D-Texas), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), Deborah Ross (D-N.C.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Jesús "Chuy" Garcia (D-Ill.), Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), David Trone (D-Md.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Jonathan Jackson (D-Ill.), and Troy Carter Sr. (D-La.).

The Mental Health Justice Act is endorsed by over 30 advocacy organization: Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Center for Policing Equity, National Alliance on Mental Illness, American Psychological Association, ACLU, National Action Network, National Emergency Number Association, the Kennedy Forum, CommunicationsFIRST, Access Ready Inc., Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Center for American Progress, Autism Society of America, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Association on Health and Disability, Lakeshore Foundation, Partnership to End Addiction, Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, and Postpartum Support International, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, American Association of Suicidology, Union for Reform Judaism, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, and Alternative Mobile Services Association, Justice in Aging, Orange County Sheriff’s Office, American Society of Addiction Medicine, National Health Care for the Homeless Council, Clinical Social Work Association, National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors, National Association for Rural Mental Health, and the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.