From Florida Phoenix: Florida leaders consider better approaches to handle the mentally ill’s revolving jail door

Miami-Dade founded the nation’s first “problem-solving court,” focused on drug abuse, in 1989. Problem-solving courts mix criminal justice with specialized therapy. Miami-Dade Judge Steve Leifman is a key figure in this effort.

His county is investing $42 million on what Leifman called a “one-stop shop” for pre- and post-trial detainees that offers psychiatric, primary care, dental, and ophthalmic treatment, tattoo removal, job training, and trauma services. It’ll house a courtroom, too.

The county can afford it, Leifman said, because its criminal diversion and treatment programs have drastically cut misdemeanor re-offenses from 72 percent to just 20 percent.  The county’s inmate population dropped from 7,300 to 4,000 – enough that the county closed one of three county jails six years ago, saving $12 million a year. The homeless population fell from 8,000 to 1,000, he said.

An estimated 134,000 people with mental health problems are arrested in Florida each year. On any given day, Leifman said, more than 60,000 are jailed or under correctional supervision.

These prisoners are suffering from serious mental problems – bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression. But their crimes are not necessarily serious – typically, they serve less than four years. They cycle in and out of the system because they don’t receive proper therapy.

“The cost is outrageous.”

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