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Senator Wellstone Introduces Mental Health Juvenile Justice Act

Chris Marshall
For Immediate Release
8 Mar 99

The inhumanity of some juvenile correctional systems toward young people with severe mental illnesses was documented in graphic detail last year by Fox Butterfield in the New York Times, reporting on Senator Paul Wellstone’s (D-MN) visit to the Tallulah juvenile justice facility in Louisiana. Senator Wellstone found the conditions at Tallulah so horrifying that he immediately drafted amendments to the Justice Appropriations bill to remedy these problems. The amendments failed on the floor of the Senate last year.

Just last week, Senator Wellstone introduced a new and improved version of his Mental Health Juvenile Justice Act, S. 464, addressing the horrendous conditions witnessed by the Senator, and the unmet treatment needs of juveniles brought into the system. This legislation authorizes the federal funding of programs for screening, treating, and, when appropriate, diverting juvenile offenders with severe mental illnesses and/or substance abuse disorders from incarceration into treatment. Senator Wellstone’s bill is cosponsored by Senators Kennedy (D. Mass.) and Landrieu (D. Louisiana) and has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).


All NAMI members and advocates are encouraged to contact their Senators and Representative and urge them to support S. 464 to address the deplorable lack of treatment and abuse of juveniles with severe mental illnesses in the juvenile justice system. All members of Congress can be reached through the Captiol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Email addresses and mail addresses can be obtained by going to the policy page on the NAMI website at and click on "Write to Congress."


The Mental Health Juvenile Justice Act is divided into three parts designed to address the treatment needs of juveniles with severe mental illnesses and/or substance abuse disorders who come into contact with juvenile justice systems.

Part one authorizes grants for partnerships between state and local juvenile justice agencies and local mental health authorities or appropriate children services agencies to establish and implement treatment programs that address the service needs of juveniles with mental health or substance abuse problems. These programs must include the following.

  • Diversion of juveniles from inappropriate incarceration into appropriate treatment.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse screening of all juveniles immediately upon entering juvenile justice systems or facilities. Screening must be conducted by qualified health or mental health professionals, or staff trained by these professionals. If trained staff conduct these screenings, the results must be reviewed by qualified professionals within 24 hours.
  • Immediate placement in or transfer to appropriate medical or mental health facilities of juveniles suffering from acute mental disorders, those who are suicidal, or those in need of detoxification programs.
  • Mental Health treatment of all juveniles identified as requiring such treatment by qualified professionals.
  • The development of a discharge plan upon a juvenile’s admission to a correctional facility, reviewed and updated throughout the course of incaceration.
  • Administration of psychotropic medications only to those juveniles who are under the care of a licensed psychiatrist.
  • A system for responding on a timely basis to mental health emergencies or individuals who are suicidal.
  • Prohibitions on placing younger or vulnerable juveniles in units with older, more aggressive juveniles as well as prohibitions on boot camps for juveniles under 13 years of age with a history of mental illness.
  • Limitations on the use of restraint and seclusion and requirements for written protocols governing the use of behavioral techniques, including restraints and seclusion.
  • Compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the anti-discrimination provisions of the Rehabilitation Act, as they apply to education.

$500 million per year is authorized for FY 1999 through FY 2003 to fund these programs.

Part two of the bill authorizes grants to create systems for intensive community services to prevent high-risk juveniles from coming into the juvenile justice system and to meet the mental health and substance abuse treatment needs of youth on probation and those recently discharged from the justice system. This section defines services that should be available such as assertive community treatment (ACT), independent living services, integrated mental health and substance abuse treatment, wrap around services, etc. Grantees would also be required to work regularly with judges, parole and probation systems, mental health and substance abuse systems and programs, and others on training and cross-agency coordination of services. This part would be funded through a 10% set-aside in the federal substance abuse block grant program administered by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).

The final part of the bill authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants and contracts to establish four research and training centers to provide training, conduct research, and provide technical assistance on juvenile justice and mental health and substance abuse issues. This section authorizes $4 million per year for FY 1999 through FY 2003 for implementation.