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:

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.


10 comments on “This is Crazy

  1. Leslie McConachie says:

    I will forward your post to as many people as possible. I don’t know that Floridians are aware of the severity of the problem. Your post explains why living in Miami is challenging.. Thank you for bringing the issue to light. I think I will send it to our Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen as well.


  2. jubilare says:

    I am aware of cases where people in my state have actually taken relatives to Florida in order to use the laws there to get some kind of help for them. It’s bad, but the reason is that my state completely fails in the area of offering any real help to the mentally ill. These people (all unable to afford care, here) feel they have no other choice.


    • Bill says:

      It’s a real problem for the homeless, many of whom are mentally ill. In Florida they can’t be institutionalized involuntarily unless they’re “dangerous.” So they end up in some revolving door of repeated arrests.
      Mental illness is probably still under-appreciated in most places.


      • jubilare says:

        Yeah. Same thing happens here. I get frustrated when I look at the childrens’ hospitals as compared to the psychiatric facilities of our local hospitals. I don’t object, of course, to people donating to children’s hospitals, but the comparison is horrifying. Even if a fraction of the donations to the former were turned to the latter we could make a difference.


  3. Houston, we have a problem.


  4. El Guapo says:

    The problem with statements like these is that even though the problem is identified, it is then ignored, in favor of easier solutions, like maintaining the status quo.


    • Bill says:

      In this case the status quo is costing a fortune. $13 million spent over five years to revolve the same 97 schizophrenic people through the jails over and over again?? THAT’S what’s crazy.


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