This is Crazy

I just read an article discussing the increasing problem of how the criminal justice system deals with the mentally ill in Florida.  Consider these amazing comments from a judge in Miami:

“On any given day, we have 18,000 prisoners, 10,000 local detainees, and between 25,000 and 40,000 on probation and community control with a serious mental illness in Florida. And this year, we are expecting 7,000 inmates with serious mental illnesses to be released from the prison system,” he said.

“The consequences of untreated mental illness are overwhelming. As a result, we’ve seen homelessness increase; we’ve seen police injuries increase; we’ve seen police shootings with people with mental illnesses increase.

“We are wasting critical, critical tax dollars in the way we do things. And in some ways, we’ve made mental illness a crime. Last year, the police in Florida actually initiated more Baker Act cases than the total number of arrests they made for robbery, burglary, and grand theft auto combined,” Leifman said.

The Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida is doing a study in Miami-Dade County, where there is the highest incidence of mental illness of any urban area in the United States, at almost three times the national level, Leifman said.

About 9 percent of the general population in Miami-Dade County suffers from a serious mental illness, he said: around 170,000 adults and 55,000 children.

“We wanted to see how we could do a better job to wrap our arms around this population to make sure that they weren’t continuously reoffending,” he explained.

Through blended computer sites, FMHI has looked at criminal records, Baker Act records, and Medicaid records to size up who is most involved in the criminal justice system in Miami-Dade County.

“To my shock, they sent me a list of 97 individuals. These 97 individuals, almost primarily men, almost all diagnosed with schizophrenia, over a five-year period were arrested 2,200 times. They spent 27,000 days in the Dade County Jail, 13,000 days at some type of crisis center or psychiatric facility.

“The cost to taxpayers was $13 million. And we got absolutely nothing for it! Ninety-seven men! I guarantee these 97 are in every single community in Florida. The key is for us to figure out how we target these high utilizers who are killing our deep-end system. This is the reason we need problem-solving courts — to really attack that problem.”

If you think that’s bad, Leifman said, here’s the story on the forensic hospital side. Florida spends between $200-$250 million a year — almost a third of its adult mental health dollars — to restore competency for about 3,000 people.

“It’s growing so fast that, if we don’t do something to change this system, by the year 2027 we will need to spend about three quarters of $1 billion to try to restore competency to 3,000 people,” he said.

Of those whose competency has been restored, he said, 70 percent are coming back to the local jail.

“These 70 percent have three things happen to them: They either have the charges dropped because the witnesses have disappeared, after you have spent $60,000 to $70,000 on them; they get credit for time served, because we are trying to get them through the criminal justice system, and they walk out the front door without any access to treatment; or, three, they get put on probation and maybe get some access to treatment.”

As one of Leifman’s colleagues often says: “It meets the definition of insanity.”

“We keep doing the same thing again and again, and we expect a different outcome,” Leifman said. “It’s not working.”

In Florida’s state prisons, the mental health population grew by 160 percent between 1996-2012, compared to the overall non-mental health population growing by 56 percent.

“We went from about 6,700 inmates 10 years ago with serious mental illnesses to almost 18,000 this year,” Leifman said.

“It is growing so fast that it is now projected that if we don’t do something to change the trajectory, over the next 10 years this number will be close to doubling. And it will cost Florida almost $3.5 billion over the next 10 years just to house people with mental illnesses in the prison system….”

See the whole story here: http://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/JNNews01.nsf/RSSFeed/C2729BF949577C1B85257C2E0048EA93

Many if not most homeless people suffer from mental illness.  Often they’re arrested, given a short sentence then released.  Then they go back to living under the same bridge until they’re arrested again.

I don’t know what the answer is (or even if there is an answer) but clearly we have a problem.

Advertisements