Campaign 2008: The Candidates Address NAMI

  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) sent a 24-item questionnaire on mental health issues to every candidate in the 2008 election. Here, I'll focus on the section, "End the inappropriate jailing of Americans with mental illness."


    As President, will you:


    1. Support increasing programs to divert people with mental illness from jail into appropriate community treatment?


    Barack Obama: "Strongly supports".

    Comment: "I support a smart and effective crime policy that ensures that individuals with mental illnesses receive the treatment they need."


    Hillary Clinton: "Strongly supports."

    Comment: "SAMHSA currently funds pre- and post-booking jail diversion pilot programs at the local level. A 2004 evaluation of these programs by SAMHSA found that jail diversion participants spent less time in institutions and more time in the community. The evaluation also found that while the initial costs of these programs was more expensive, they resulted in overall savings to the criminal justice system. I believe that these results are promising, and we should be looking at ways to expand best practices from these pilot programs so that we can better treat non-violent offenders."

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    John Edwards:

    Comment: "We need more alternatives to incarceration-such as drug courts-for first-time, nonviolent offenders because sending them to prison can create lifelong criminals."


    It is Mitt Romney's policy not to respond to questionnaires. John McCain did not address this issue, but offered a four-paragraph response as to why mental health needs must be addressed in tandem with physical health. All the other candidates, Republican and Democrat, have yet to respond.



    2. Support increasing programs to identify youth with serious mental disorders at first contact with juvenile justice systems and increase diversion to community treatment?


    Barack Obama: "Strongly supports."

    Comment: "I am a strong supporter of ensuring that individuals who need treatment can receive it, which includes young people involved with our juvenile justice system."


    Hillary Clinton: "Strongly supports."

    Comment: "I believe that we should ensure that jail diversion efforts should also apply to the juvenile level, so that we can help to get youth the resources they need prior to prolonged exposure and experience in the criminal justice system."


    John Edwards:

    Comment: "I support the goals of the Second Chance for Ex-Offenders act, including the establishment of a National Adult and Juvenile Offender Reentry Resource Center to collect data and assist community groups with ex-offender reentry programs and services such as training and mentoring to help ex-offenders and their families."



    3. Support access to SSI/SSDI, Medicaid and other federal benefits upon release from jail or prison for people with mental illness?


    Barack Obama: "Strongly supports."

    Comment: "I support efforts to ensure that the SSDI/SSI and Medicaid benefits are provided."


    Hillary Clinton: "Strongly supports."

    Comment: "When I am President, I will work to pass universal health care coverage so that all Americans have access to health insurance. Following incarceration, it is especially important for those with mental illnesses to have access to coverage so they may continue their course of treatment outside of jail or prison. With access to necessary care, we will be supporting a chance of successful reentry and helping to prevent recidivism."


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    John Edwards:

    Comment: "I support access to SSI/SSDI, Medicaid and other federal benefits for released prisoners with mental illnesses. Denying benefits to former prisoners can reverse progress they made through treatment while in prison, and could prevent them from re-integrating in and contributing to their communities."


    Now, hopefully this isn't all rhetoric and campaign sloganeering to drum up votes. The proof in the pudding is how the candidates, some of them senators and ex-senators voted while they were in office. I will try my best to track down their voting records on issues such as mental health parity. For now, I can tell you Obama and Clinton have voted yes on this measure.


    To find out the answers to this and the other questions posed of the candidates, log on to, and click on the link at the top of the page, "Election 2008."


    A good friend of mine, who is a Democrat, told me, "They're all liars, crooks and thieves"-and she was talking about her own party. It remains to be seen if the person elected will follow-through and make good on his or her promises.


    Though this is a historic election, I'm not impressed with the fact that a woman and an African-American are running for the highest office. I don't go by age, race or gender. Simply, I believe they are the most qualified. And I don't want a repeat of the last eight years. Some people say the country isn't ready for the first black president, or the first woman, and that either one would risk their lives if they won the election.


    I'm impressed that they would take this risk. It's been a long time coming. We need a change, and we need it now.

Published On: January 17, 2008