The chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court and Gov. Charlie Crist called yesterday for a complete overhaul of the state’s mental-healthcare system, the Miami Herald reports. They issued a report that lays out an ambitious plan to help mentally ill individuals who end up in jails and prisons because they haven’t received the treatment they need. The report, sponsored by the Supreme Court, envisions using money now spent on mental health treatment for prisoners deemed incompetent to stand trial. Instead, those individuals would be targeted for intensive community-based mental health treatment before they are arrested. Money also would come from Medicaid, which doesn’t cover people in prisons but can pay for treatment before they’re institutionalized.
”What we’re doing is focusing on this very small group of people who are costing the state a ton of money and are recycling through the criminal justice system,” said Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Leifman, chairman of the Supreme Court’s Mental Health Subcommittee. “About 80 percent of those people can live comfortably and safely in the community.” He said the project will need about $20 million in general revenue money to get started. The push to revamp the mental health system comes during one of the state’s worst economic downturns in more than a decade. In Miami-Dade County, hundreds are arrested every year and confined on the ninth floor of the county jail, an overcrowded psychiatric wing. Investigations by the Herald, a 2004 Miami-Dade County grand jury, Amnesty International, and WFOR-CBS4 have found conditions horrific, with inmates crowded together in cells designed for one person, lights kept on 24 hours a day and little to no mental health treatment available.