The Future is Now Decriminalization of Mental Illness Cover banner image

National judicial task force to examine state courts’ response to mental illness meets; report on decriminalization of mental illness released

Chief Justice Paul L. Reiber and Judge Lawrence K. Marks

Serving as Co-Chairs of the CCJ/COSCA Task Force are Chief Justice Paul L. Reiber and Judge Lawrence K. Marks

June 5, 2020

On March 30, 2020, the Boards of Directors of the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators took action to establish a new Task Force to assist state courts in their efforts to more effectively respond to the needs of court-involved individuals with serious mental illness. The Task Force will build upon the previous work of the NCSC National Advisory Committee, supported by funding from the State Justice Institute.

The Co-chairs of the Task Force are Chief Justice Paul L. Reiber (VT) and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks (NY). Other members of the Executive Committee include Chief Justice Robert Brutinel (AZ), Chief Justice Richard Robinson (CT), and Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush (IN) and COSCA members Nancy Cozine (OR), Tonnya K. Kohn (SC) and Marcia M. Meis (IL).

During the first meeting of the Executive Committee on May 25, 2020, the structure and governance of the Task Force were adopted and additional financial support from the State Justice Institute was also announced. The Committee received a transition report The Future is Now: Decriminalization of Mental Illness from the former National Advisory Committee. The report established the process leading to the adoption of an aggressive agenda of the work and activities to be undertaken over the next thirty months based on the following principles.

  1. A community by community approach, supported by statewide leadership from all three branches of government, is required to improve the justice system response to those with mental illness and co-occurring disorders.
  2. Supporting judicial leadership to implement the Sequential Intercept Model to promote early access to treatment for mental illness and co-occurring disorders and to keep individuals from continuing to penetrate the justice system.
  3. Developing best practices, research, and data to improve justice system responses including competency delays, civil commitment, assisted outpatient treatment practices, deflection and diversion, caseflow management practices involving those with mental illness and co-occurring disorders, and other strategies to improve our responses.
  4. Promoting education and training for judges and court personnel to improve our capacity to lead change in our states and communities and to understand mental illness and co-occurring disorders and their impact on court proceedings.
  5. Carrying forward the important work started by the CCJ-COSCA National Judicial Opioid Task Force (NJOTF).

Additional information about the work of the Task Force and resources for courts about behavioral health issues can be found at https://www.ncsc.org/mentalhealth.